All the way back 2013, the talented team at Mane6 were crunching away at a surprisingly competent and majorly unofficial My Little Pony fighting game when a cease and desist came down onto them from the corporate entities at Hasbro. Nine times out of ten, something like this spells the permanent end of a promising fan project. Mane6 was that special tenth case, however. The team instead reworked their entire game and stripped away all copyright-infringing material, developing an original world and brand new cast of characters with the help of lead My Little Pony artist Lauren Faust.
Seven years later, this reimagined four-legged fighter is being featured as an official tournament game at the upcoming Evo Online summer fighting game event. Newly christened 2D fighter Them’s Fightin’ Herds launched into Steam Early Access in the summer of 2018, but with the full 1.0 release having just arrived, it’s time to see if this bull has grown some horns.
While a few things were missing from the initial Early Access launch of Them’s Fightin’ Herds, the indie fighter has always had a sharply designed and satisfying combat system. You have four buttons to fight with for light, medium, heavy, and magic attacks. Your simple attacks can be strung together fluidly, and combined with launchers or anti-airs to craft intricate combos with ease. It’s once you learn the unique attacks and abilities of each character that the game really starts to shine.
The roster may only feature a meager six fighters, but each one is a wildly unique fighter with interesting mechanics and attacks that rarely overlap in style or application. Pom summons hordes of dogs to tear into you while she watches from afar, while Arizona is a close-ranged rushdown star with a whip attack that can grab opponents at a distance.
Every character has fluid animations and sharp, hand-drawn sprites for every attack and ability. Jaw-dropping particle effects and glowing explosions dance across the screen during super attacks and hit-sparks fly with every satisfying blow you land. It might be easy for some players to spy the inspirations each character takes from the original iteration of the game, but Mane6 has still managed to craft an incredibly polished and original world for Them’s Fightin’ Herds that truly stands on its own.
There’s no better way to experience the unique world and characters of the game than through the largest new addition included in version 1.0: the Story Mode. Intended to run for multiple chapters, with each one letting you play as a different member of the roster, only the first chapter is currently available right now. Mane6 plans to add more chapters as free updates down the line, but there’s still plenty to enjoy in the Arizona-led debut chapter of their incredibly creative story mode.
Half of this mode sees you exploring top-down pixelized environments, cities, and even dungeons as over-confident champion-to-be Arizona. You won’t be fighting the same six roster members on repeat. Instead, there are multiple unique enemies designed for the story mode that you’ll run into as you explore the world. Each of the different types of animals you fight teach you different mechanics of the game, like making sure to utilise anti-air attacks against the wolves who always jump in at you. There’s also platforming segments through the campaign that teach you how to properly make short hops and long jumps, seamlessly blending the RPG style exploration scenes with inventive takes on traditional fighting game mechanics.
Boss encounters in the story mode for Them’s Fightin’ Herds are a thrill, too. Multi-stage battles will test your skills and have you side-stepping poisonous blasts or hopping over lightning-fast tail whips from a giant cobra. You’ll eventually encounter members from the main roster as foes, but these encounters aren’t a standard first to two rounds. Your opponents take advantage of a variety of special story mode exclusive moves and abilities during these battles, giving you a unique and stylish encounter that you’d never be able to experience in a standard versus match.
The overarching story of the game isn’t incredibly groundbreaking so far, but the amount of charming dialogue and unique gameplay mechanics present in the three hour campaign are an incredible appetiser for what’s to come from the story mode chapters that will follow.
One of the main reasons that Them’s Fightin’ Herds has a featured tournament at Evo Online is because of the GGPO rollback netcode it uses for online play. Quick matches are silky smooth, and even battles on the roughest of connections usually manage to smooth out after a few seconds.
There’s a gorgeous and creative lobby system for the game that sees you wandering around environments from the story mode as a customizable 16-bit avatar, collecting accessories and competing over randomly spawning treasure chests with other players. It’s a cute system, but the large size of these lobby environments often leads to far too much downtime as you desperately search for a match. Only one or two lobbies ever reach their full 25 player capacity, and often times a good chunk of the people in these lobbies are AFK. Hopefully, the playerbase grows enough in the months to come to bring these unique lobbies to life.