Unfortunately, I am not good at fighting games. However “Them’s Fightin’ Herds,” similar to other 2D fighters like “BlazBlue” and “Skullgirls,” is a fantastic entry into the genre with great gameplay that I’m sadly just not good at. While I never got around to playing the online multiplayer mode of this game, I spent a significant amount of time on the story mode and versus AI modes.
Originally it was in development as a fan-made game of “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” called “Fighting is Magic,” which was later scrapped. This led to the formation of development team Mane6, of which “Friendship is Magic” creator Lauren Faust joined as the character and narrative design director. Now with a whole development team and access to the Z-Engine, a fighting game engine used for the development of “Skullgirls,” Mane6 was able to create the cute but action-packed “Them’s Fightin’ Herds.”
At the basic level, “Them’s Fightin’ Herds” utilizes a four-button fighting system for light, medium, heavy and magic attacks. This translates pretty well for beginner players, like myself, while also maintaining a sense of complexity to the controls.
As mentioned above, the simple controls make this game accessible to beginners and veterans of 2D fighters alike. It allows a sense of universality between the six playable characters. Despite each character sporting its own unique set of abilities and movesets, the simple controls allow for an easy shift between the different playstyles. Unlike other games in the genre like “Mortal Kombat,” you don’t need to memorize a long string of buttons to effectively play a character. Aside from this, the tutorial mode is simple but really useful for teaching complex concepts to beginner players. There are separate tutorials for each character in the cast, so you can learn their movesets and specials right from the get-go.
The story mode for “Them’s Fightin’ Herds” stands out as one of the best story modes you can find in a fighting game. In my experience, fighting games are too often geared toward the multiplayer aspect, so the story mode is just a string of battles with a loose plot layered underneath. Instead of pulling the player through a string of battles, “Them’s Fightin’ Herds” immerses players into an overworld of pixel art, allowing them to explore for added cosmetics and fight semi-generic enemies that are specific to the story.
The story itself follows an all-female cast of six ungulate characters, or hooved mammals, fighting each other to be worthy of being named champion in order to gain a magical key that will protect their world from deadly predators. At the time of writing, only the first chapter is available for the story. The first chapter follows the story of Arizona, the Champion of the Prairie and a country calf, who wants to protect her herd and make her father proud. It’s a surprisingly well-written story with a light sense of humor and cute characters. As of right now, the second chapter, following the story of Velvet who is an upper-class and snooty doe, is in pre-production.
The music of “Them’s Fightin’ Herds” is also fantastic. Each character has its own theme that not only immerses you into their personality, but also subtly communicates to the player who is winning with the dynamic music system. In a given match, the music will subtly change to variations of a specific character’s theme when that character is winning the fight. The way the music transitions so smoothly is genius.
The characters of this game are diverse in not just their personalities, but in their abilities and movesets. Lavender is great at zoning out enemies by keeping them at a distance with her near-endless supply of magic attacks, while Arizona’s attacks are short-ranged and focus on brute strength with an added lasso attack to close the distance with an enemy. Paprika, a lovable alpaca, is focused on quick movements and randomized magic abilities to confuse opponents, while Tianhuo, a mythical longma, is geared towards mobility with the ability to fly and attack enemies from any direction.
“Them’s Fightin’ Herds” limited cast of characters is also one of its flaws. I can imagine that playing the same six characters after a while can get repetitive, and playing against these same characters online may get tiresome. At least there are currently plans for a seventh character to be added to the game: Shanty, a pirate goat. After this, there’s no telling if there will be other DLC characters, but at least we know that other story chapters will be added along the way.
A small complaint I have about this game is just how difficult it can sometimes get. I played through the story mode on the intermediate difficulty, but I got stumped an hour into the game at Velvet’s boss fight. When you fight against a character from the main cast, it’s definitely a boss fight. Each character has three different stages, more difficult than the last, to test your skill. It took me a collective two hours to finally beat Velvet’s boss fight, but I was glad to be able to get farther into the game, stopping before the third boss fight against Oleander. A small nitpick, but the platforming sequences that push players to master short hops and high jumps can also be pretty difficult and frustrating.
Overall, “Them’s Fightin’ Herds” is a really solid game. If I were to spend more time playing, I know I would be able to get better at the game and enjoy it more. The fact that this indie game packs a surprising punch of depth and complexity to its core gameplay and story sets it apart from bigger titles. Grabbing this game at $15 on Steam is definitely worth it, even more if it’s on sale, if you’re looking for a new 2D fighter to get into. With the plans to add additional story chapters for each of the main cast, and at least one DLC character who will get their own story once the main storyline is completed, keep a hoof out for “Them’s Fightin’ Herds.”