The Wild West wasn’t exactly known for being peaceful. You’ve got people tied to train tracks. You’ve got bandits and outlaws. You’ve got high noon duels and rugged cowboys relying on their trusty six shooters to solve their problems. And while this ruggedness works fine and dandy for something like Red Dead Redemption 2, sometimes it’s nice to see the genre from a different point of view. A children’s point of view, perhaps?
El Hijo is a game themed within the wild west genre and centers around the titular El Hijo, our six-year-old hero who was left at a monastery by his mother. Using stealth and distractions, he escapes the monastery, travels across the desert, and navigates through dangerous towns to find his way to his long lost mom.
Something that really stood out about this game was the gameplay. It relies entirely on non-violence; you’ll creep in the shadows, crouch behind objects, and cause distractions to safely get where you need to go. When you’re in the shadows, enemies in the light can’t see you, so remaining in the dark is essential to sneak past villains. When in brightly lit areas, there will be places to hide and crouch to avoid detection.
In these spots, taking note of the patterns of the enemies is crucial. Come out of hiding at the wrong time, and you’re caught!
You’ll also receive different objects, such as stones and windup toys, to help you distract enemies that are blocking your path. These have to be placed just right. Too far away, and the enemy won’t notice. Too close, and they won’t move. It takes a few attempts to learn the placement and movement, but once you’ve got it, you’ll be diverting attention like a pro.
Visually, El Hijo is very interesting. The environments are well done, and there’s little details scattered around that will catch your eye. The graphics are a bit soft around the edges, which is a great choice stylistically, given the age of the protagonist. It’s like seeing the world through the eyes of a kid. I personally enjoyed the sound design as well, which was minimal, yet still full of environmental noises like screeching birds and creaking wood. It added to the western theme quite well.
El Hijo isn’t a rootin’, tootin’, and shootin’ wild west adventure, and that’s what makes it charming. The lack of combat provides a unique challenge and forces you to rely on skill and stealth to get past enemies. It’s also a Western with an unusual protagonist – a six year old boy. This makes the gameplay even more interesting, because you realize you’re playing like a six year old. You have to be mischievous, crafty, and quick. If you’re looking for a high stakes, cowboy themed game of hide-and-seek, go ahead and say howdy to El Hijo.