Them's Fightin' Herds

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Developer: Mane6
Release Date: April 30, 2020


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PC Preview - 'Them's Fightin' Herds'

by Cody Medellin on June 7, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Them's Fightin' Herds is a 2D fighting game featuring a cast of four-legged combatants. Beneath the cute and cuddly surface awaits a mechanically deep, fighting game.

Them's Fightin' Herds started when a bunch of fan programmers decided to make a fighting game based on "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic." Using the latest version of Fighter Maker for the PC, the game was dubbed Fighting is Magic and made some good progress on the gameplay front. It also got some attention from Skullgirls developer Lab Zero Games, who offered them a license for their engine. Like many fan games, the fan project was shut down by Hasbro. However, the team joined forces with "Friendship is Magic" series creator Lauren Faust and decided to continue their work with original characters. Them's Fightin' Herds was released to Steam Early Access a few months ago with some help from Humble Bundle and promotional goods from Arc System Works and Lab Zero, which is highly unusual for a PC-only fighting game made by a relatively tiny team. We took the game for a spin and came away very impressed.

If you're coming to the game fresh, then you'll need to familiarize yourself with the fact that you're fighting with and against quadrupeds:  bovines, dragons, llamas, etc. Attacking isn't going to make much of a difference since you'll use your front and back legs, but blocking is a different story. Some characters have obvious blocking stances, like Oleander using her book, while others have more subtle stances, like Velvet turning away and exposing a shoulder. We haven't had too many fighting games that didn't feature characters with recognizable arms and legs, so even genre fans may need some time to recognize the stances at a glance.

Lack of bipeds aside, the fighting system should be familiar to those who have played the likes of Skullgirls or Marvel vs. Capcom 3. You have four attack buttons: one dedicated to magical attacks and three that determine the strength of the attack. Special moves are accomplished with standard Street Fighter II inputs, so there are plenty of quarter-circles and holds in one direction before pressing in the opposite direction. Super attacks are also present, and each one provides the chance to unleash a different attack in the middle — provided you have the energy.

It doesn't take long to notice that this is a very combo-heavy game with an emphasis on juggling. You can pull off some combos from the ground, but the most effective and flashiest stuff is available when you launch an opponent in the air and follow up with even more attacks. There is a safeguard in the form of a juggle meter that immediately ends the combo once it fills up, so there's little chance of executing infinite combos or becoming the victim of one. With that said, the frantic fighting system may not be great for button-mashers, but the fighting feels very good, and every match feels satisfying.

You'll also notice that the game has no qualms about making you learn through trial and error. The moves may be easy to pull off, but you will get punished for leaving yourself open or failing to learn how to block right. Even at the easiest difficulty level, all of the combatants can wipe the floor with you if you aren't careful, so expect to put some time into learning the characters.

Speaking of characters, there are only six of them in Them's Fightin' Herds so far, and that's a pretty paltry number for a modern fighting game. The last time we saw a fighting roster that small was on the original Mortal Kombat, which had seven fighters —excluding the two bosses. At the very least, those fighters are distinct from one another, so the differences between them are rather huge. For example, Arizona is a big brawler that happens to use a lasso to pull in opponents. Paprika is all about throwing out random goods while zipping in from all directions, and Pom sets up extra combat helpers so she can unleash big combos at the right time. There are more characters planned, but for now, you'll treat this like Virtua Fighter in that you'll stick with one character and try to learn her inside and out.

Playing solo, there's not much here at the moment. There's a bonus minigame in the form of target practice, and the arcade mode is nice but lacks any character-specific resolution after you beat the final cache of bosses. The lack of a story mode is why the game is still in Early Access, but if the mode contains lore that matches the style of the game's website, it could be worth waiting for if you're a fan of narratives.

Multiplayer is why the game is out now, and while the quality of local multiplayer is a given, the online play gets some scrutiny. The bad news is that because the genre isn't that prolific on the PC, fighting games tend to have low populations at any given moment. There seems to be a dedicated bunch of people playing at any time, so finding a fight isn't too difficult if you don't mind getting worked. The online performance is awesome, so you won't miss inputs or see characters warp around even if you're facing someone with a poor connection. Also, while the game features a normal lobby system, people have abandoned that in favor of the pixel lobby, which lets you run around in a 2D pixel world with your character dressed up in lots of accessories, including a few from Blazblue, Guilty Gear and Skullgirls, if you happen to own those games.

Despite this, the most intriguing part of the online portion is the salt mines. Each fight you have with anyone in the lobby gets you salt, and if you have enough salt, you can enter the mines to explore the equivalent of a dungeon. As in any good dungeon, the enemies get stronger as you progress, and you only have one life bar to use throughout the journey. The reward is loads of cosmetic items for your avatar. It makes for an excellent use of the lobby system, especially since you can temporarily team up with others to take on enemies. The only turn-offs for the moment are the fact that salt can't be carried over to other lobbies and the cost to enter the mines can fluctuate wildly.

Most of the presentation is superb. The animations are fluid enough, but you appreciate the hand-drawn art used for the characters and backgrounds. Attacks have a decent amount of flash to them, and while the backgrounds are mostly static, the fact that the spectators can change often is a nice touch. The voice acting is excellent, as is the musical score, which can feature some noticeable variations, depending on who's winning the fight; it's a nice touch, and it would be good to see other fighting games adopt this aspect. The Early Access status of the game means you'll have to deal with some bugs in this area. For starters, you only hear one character say their intro, and that's always player one. Also, the animations never sync up, as the voices are heard before the characters move their mouths.

If you can live with the small roster of fighters at the moment, then your enjoyment of Them's Fightin' Herds will depend on what kind of fighting game fan you are. If you lean toward a solo experience, then you'll be better served watching the development for now because there's no sense of fulfillment in completing the arcade mode. If you crave competition, whether local or online, then Them's Fightin' Herds is certainly worth checking out now. The netcode is good, the distinct fighting styles allow for some deep gameplay, and the small but dedicated community means you'll always find a fight or be given enough chances to enter the salt mines. We're certainly going to keep an eye on the development of Them's Fightin' Herds as the months roll on.

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