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Back in 1999, when Metal Gear Solid launched, it laid a strong foundation for stealth action games, treating each mission as an elaborate puzzle that needs to be solved. Still, I always wondered if a stealth game could fixate itself on stealth alone – no cheesy one-liners, no convoluted storylines, no action sequences, and at the same time, feature the child-like whimsicality of old¬† Legend of Zelda titles. And to my surprise, Honig Studios’ stealth-based puzzler El Hijo has somewhat managed to do just that for me. Still, you’d be wondering how does the game fare when it has no combat, no dialogues, and no action sequences. Well, let’s get into it.

An Escape into the Wilds

The game is set in a fictional landscape that very much resembles the American West as we know it from Sergio Leone’s classics, borrowing some of the most popular characteristics such as gangs of outlaws, shady saloons, and endless deserts, all served up with a good helping of sarcasm and irony. The journey begins when a farmer and her son El Hijo are attacked by bandits who raze their farm to the ground. The mother, confronted with a difficult choice, decides to leave El Hijo with a group of old monks at a secluded monastery to protect him. However, El Hijo decides that the monastic life is not for him, and he decides to escape. And this escape is where his adventure begins.

The story is pretty simple to its barebones, it features no dialogues or action sequences and the bulk of its plot is told through its gameplay is coupled with a few montages. Though it’s not that revolutionary, it is certainly trying to do things in the old-school style. Overall plot-wise, things are decent but it’s far from being a memorable one.

Trial and Error

El Hijo is a simplistic kid when it comes to gameplay. There are several levels throughout the game for you to overcome. You can save the game only after beating a level. Thankfully there are decent checkpoints (highlighted by a blue light) throughout these levels to save you from the trouble of starting over. The majority of these levels focus on stealth exploration and fleeing. Each level introduces new gadgets and abilities that you can use to avoid getting caught by the NPCs.

The mechanics involved in solving its stealth puzzles are pretty simple as well. The most basic one of ’em all is to ‘stay in the shadows’. As long as you are in the shadows, your enemy will turn a blind eye, even at a close range. However, be wary of ‘getting too close’ though, it takes them less than a few seconds to nab ya. You can also use environmental objects to avoid the gaze and use the bird’s eye view to take a wider look at your surroundings. To make things somewhat easier, you can also use the various tools at your disposal – slingshot and a whole lot of other things. The animation that pops up when El-Hijo gets hold of one of these tools is quite reminiscent of Legend of Zelda. More precisely, it reminded me of the 2003’s classic Wind-Waker.

The game’s easy-to-grasp mechanics and intriguing puzzles make it quite appealing. But the dumb AI can make the experience pretty underwhelming at times. To make things somewhat interesting for puzzle-veterans, each level in the game features children that El Hijo can inspire. These act as bonus objectives and reaching them requires a lot of backtracking and trial-n-error. In the end, it eventually comes down to either distract the monks or walk around them.

Decent Visuals, Sub-par Soundtracks

From a visual standpoint, El Hijo won’t blow you away but it’s not underwhelming either. Its minimalistic visuals certainly has its charm thanks to the isometric camera angles. There’s enough variety in its terrains to keep the visual experience fresh. And thanks to its not-so-taxing visuals, the game’s performance holds up quite well too. I did not encounter any significant bugs and the game was holding a solid 60 fps at all times on a GTX 1050. However, except for resolution there’s is nothing tweakable when it comes to visuals.

Aside from visuals, there’s nothing in particular that stands out when it comes to the game’s background score. It’s not bad but it ain’t memorable either. Still, it is serviceable though, it’s just that I didn’t find it appealing to my taste.

Worth the Buy?

If you like Wild West tales and are a fan of the stealth genre, definitely go for El Hijo. The most entertaining aspect of its 6-7 hour campaign is its stealth mechanics. So, your fun factor will depend upon your skills and taste when it comes to stealth puzzles. Its AI can be a little underwhelming at times but there are enough nuances to keep you hooked.

FINAL RATING: RECOMMENDED

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