El Hijo is a charming, non-violent stealth game set in the Old West. If you love the idea of playing an entire videogame – one based on revenge even – without shooting, punching, kicking, jumping on, or hurting any NPC in any way, then this is probably the game for you.
I’ve long felt that the Old West is an overlooked setting for storytelling. Whether that’s movies, novels, or videogames, I think the genre could use some fresh takes. And just when I thought it was all Clint Eastwood flicks and replays of the Red Dead Redemption series, here comes El Hijo from Honig Studios. El Hijo, which translates to The Son or The Child depending on who you ask, is a non-violent stealth game that sees our little hero avoiding monks and bandits in a gorgeous old west setting.
We begin with a young boy playing some sneaky games (read: tutorial) with his mom in their backyard. When they return, mom and son find that a group of bandits has set fire to their home. Apparently, these a-holes didn’t get the memo that this was a NON-VIOLENT stealth game. I can attest that single moms aren’t to be messed with and this was probably especially true in the old west, so mom sets off to exact revenge. She takes her son to a monastery where he will be safe while she embarks on her revenge tour. The son quickly learns that the monk’s life is not for him, and with your help, he begins his escape.
The story is told entirely without dialogue. In fact, the closest we get to human dialogue is when you find another child in the game. If you can reach them without being spotted, you can “inspire” them. You may teach them how to juggle rocks or perform a practical joke on some of the “bad guys” in the game. This elicits the type of giggles that you only hear when a little boy is up to no good. “Inspiring” these other kids is a side objective, but it was a nice distraction and I always made a point to seek them out. My search for these poor kids wasn’t entirely driven by my altruistic nature, mind you. Sometimes the kid would give you something that you could use to distract some of the bad guys, and that always comes in handy.
Speaking of distractions, eventually, you’ll gain the ability to throw rocks before earning your trusty slingshot. You’ll find more toys (AKA master tools of evasion) along your journey including some windup soldiers that pretty much do the same thing as the rocks and the slingshot.
The stealth here isn’t groundbreaking, but it works well and kept me entertained throughout the entire 15 levels. The controls felt a little bit floaty, which is too bad because this was the game’s only real source of frustrations. For instance, when you are facing an object that you can interact with, such as a row of barrels that you can crouch behind, or a table you can crawl under, or a basket you can hide in, you need to wait for the prompt to come on screen before you can do it. Inevitably, I found myself pushing the button too soon, causing me to begin hammering on the button in a panic when my character didn’t immediately respond. This usually resulted in the little guy climbing in the pot and then climbing right back out because I hit the button too many times. Waiting for on-screen prompts to perform your stealthy maneuvers removed all of the fluidity. If this was an overly difficult game, this would be a bigger deal, but the generous checkpoints kept this from being too frustrating.
The art style is bright and very colorful. It sort of reminds me of an indie version of The Breath of the Wild. It’s so bright in fact, it was sometimes hard to see the bad guy’s cone of vision, which the game designated in yellow. You could see this by releasing a bird from your back pocket which is the game’s clever way of putting the camera into a bird’s eye view. From this screen, you can pan the camera to see a bigger portion of the level. This was handy to help plan out your route and to look for hidden treasure and kids to “inspire”.
I wish the controls were tighter and it could probably use an increased difficulty mode. But if a challenge is what you’re looking for, you can always try for the trophy for completing the game without getting caught. I can promise you that won’t be easy. As I mentioned, the checkpoints are many, so it’s never too hard to make progress, but some of the levels are very long, and you will lose any progress if you don’t complete the level in one sitting. Not really a problem if you’re playing on a PS5, but if you’re still rocking the PS4, you might wish for shorter levels in exchange for a checkpoint or two.
In the end, I had a really good time sneaking around this world. The levels were beautiful to look at and they were really fun to explore. My favorite being the goldmine towards the end. The game wasn’t very difficult, but that was just fine by me. If you like being sneaky and don’t mind playing pacifist for six or seven hours, then El Hijo is probably worth your time and money.
El Hijo - PS5, PS4 Review
- Overall - Fantastic - 8/108/10
El Hijo is a simple but fun stealth game set in the Old West. The fact that it managed this without letting me shoot a single six-shooter or ride a horse is a testament to Honig Studios. The controls could be tighter and it isn’t overly difficult made even easier by the numerous checkpoints, but there were a ton of fun puzzles to solve and it was damn beautiful to look at.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Primary version tested: PS4. Reviewed using: PS5, PS4