At the heart of El Hijo – A Wild West Tale is the story of a young boy trying to find his mother.
It’s a little heart-breaking, really. They were happy together until a gang of bandits razed their farm, leaving them with nothing. El Hijo’s mother thought she was doing the right thing by leaving him at a local monastery; they could protect him, she thought. Yet all the while, she was dead-set on getting revenge. El Hijo’s a resourceful little chap, however, and he’s made it his task to escape the monastery and be reunited with his mother once again.
Being a young boy, El Hijo isn’t a capable fighter. Plus, I really don’t think he has it in him – he’s a nice, innocent boy. And so his quest to find his mother is a stealth mission. Starting from within the monastery, he needs to keep out of sight of those who would seek to keep him within its walls. Then, after successfully making an escape, he needs to avoid those who would do him harm. And along the way, he seeks to inspire the children around him, bringing a little joy to their everyday lives. Life isn’t easy in the Wild West, after all.
Viewed from an isometric viewpoint, El Hijo – A Wild West Tale‘s stealth-based gameplay is simple yet unforgiving at times. The usual stealth mechanics are here – El Hijo can avoid detection by skulking in the dark, crouching behind cover and hiding in objects such as vases. Light is his enemy; if he’s seen he’s likely to be captured or worse, resulting you in being taken back to your last checkpoint. And so, a lot of trial and error is involved as you test the limits of each environment and the people within it.
There are about 30 levels for you to make your way through, covering the monastery, a desert expanse, and even a crime-ridden town. Needless to say, they all throw up their own unique challenges. No one’s actually out to harm you in the monastery, for example, but in a town full of criminals, danger is undoubtedly afoot. Thankfully, El Hijo has a few tricks up his sleeve. For a start, by making use of a bird he can get a good idea of his surroundings. Even better, it allows him to view the sight cones of those he wishes to avoid, too. And to distract those pesky individuals blocking his path, he has multiple options.
Initially El Hijo can simply throw coins to distract those around him. As he progresses on his journey, however, more ways to cause distractions become available, such as wind-up toys, and even a catapult. Effective use of these tools is a must later in the game, especially as some of them have limited uses. Though frequent checkpointing means that even if you do get caught, you generally don’t lose much progress.
‘Charming’ is an apt word to describe El Hijo – A Wild West Tale. It’s got a disarming art style, and its non-violent gameplay really drives home that its protagonist is a young, innocent child. But as charming as it is, it’s frequently not a great deal of fun to play. As previously mentioned, mechanically it’s quite basic. It’s not such a bad thing initially, but as you progress further into the game it struggles to hold your attention. It gets rather repetitive.
There’s also the fact that despite each of its levels being rather small, it doesn’t always do a great job of communicating where you need to go. And there’s the perspective to deal with: sometimes you’ll be certain that you’re in cover – that you can’t be spotted – and yet someone will lay their eyes on you and ruin your day. Other times, a route that looks clear will actually turn out to be blocked, ruining your plans.
If you’re in the market for a good old-fashioned stealth adventure, El Hijo – A Wild West Tale is certainly worth a look – just don’t expect it to wow you in any way. Its charm, while initially strong, soon starts to wear thin, while its repetitive gameplay may eventually struggle to hold your attention. Throw in some unnecessary frustrations, and you have a game that will occasionally delight, but rarely truly impress.
El Hijo – A Wild West Tale Review: GameSpew’s Score