Them's Fightin' Herds Review - Screenshot 1 of 5

The craze now coined as “bronyism” — a heavily documented My Little Pony fandom that took root in 2010 — turned out to be more about inclusion than it did the show (Friendship is Magic) itself. Despite our attempts to get into it based on recommendations, we found its adult appeal largely overvalued. It acted as a conduit for individuals to share and be part of something, and every Brony surely knows, deep down, that the primary attraction is its related community. However, it turned out to be just the beginning of the next decade of media output and social-political causes that operated on a similar set of principles.

Twelve years on, and the fandom isn’t ready to quit just yet. Them’s Fightin’ Herds isn’t a licensed product and doesn’t feature a single character from the show, but its art style, themes and execution are so perfectly accurate to its influence that it takes scrutiny to realise it’s not an official Hasbro product. Obviously, the horse in the room here is that Lauren Faust, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’s creator, rendered the game’s cast of characters, making it feel totally authentic.

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Indie Developer Mane6 went down the fighting game route back in 2012 when its unofficial My Little Pony title, Fighting is Magic, was killed by a cease-and-desist order from Hasbro. With the spectre of a lawsuit now buried, Them’s Fightin’ Herds draws together seven playable characters: a reindeer, unicorn, alpaca, cow, longma and a sheep. It’s a somewhat anaemic initial roster and, as a result, the game goes by quickly in single-player mode, but the depth of techniques and broadness of fighting styles on offer provide plenty for fighting game fans to chew on. For those willing to pony up more cash, four additional combatants are promised as future DLC.

The effort put into its Story Mode can’t be overstated, however. Playing as Arizona the cow, there’s actually a full — although largely linear — 2D RPG overworld to traverse. Here, you interact with NPCs and work your way through dungeon-lite caverns, solving simple puzzles, and entering fights that can level up your character. The action switches to a side-on perspective in certain sections, and while the game does initially teach you how to use your small, medium and large hops in combat, the dungeon maps aren't particularly well-engineered for platforming, with somewhat indistinct platform edges. This is a vastly expanded Story Mode compared to those found in other fighting games. The lengthy, dialogue-heavy cutscenes, sharp wit, and inimitable design provide a whole other game compared to the regular arcade mode. For fans of Hasbro’s equine-themed cartoon, its appeal is clear. For those who just want combat, perhaps less so.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Visually the game is excellent; it's clean, bright, colourful, and gorgeously animated. Lauren Faust’s designs are superb, with each character loaded with personality, and they sit nicely against backgrounds that render the fantasy world of Fœnum in Looney Tunes-esque brushstrokes. Formed in an almost identical style to My Little Pony, it feels like a bonafide spin-off.

Arcade Mode allows you to take the reins (pun intended) on any of the seven main characters without the additional bumph. Training mode, however, is our recommended first port of call, as it allows you to practice the game's massive compendium of combos, ranging from simple to intermediate to master class. Seeing the breadth and depth of the four-button system really showcases the seriousness of the endeavour. These days the fighting game format has reached a stage of evolution where enormous combo building is par for the course, and this game has it all: tech jabs, air juggles, counters and recoveries, and dazzling combo-building exposition. Them’s Fightin’ Herds is a legitimate fighting game that is looking to go toe-to-toe with Arc System’s finest, and it shows.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

The fighting system is loose and fast but tautly defined, allowing an enormous degree of experimentation with its four-button layout. While Street Fighters and Virtua Fighters of their day were bowed on tactical precision and defensive play, the genre has moved into something altogether more exuberant, demanding combo excess and flashy theatrics. Using Lab Zero’s (Skullgirls) Z-Engine, Them’s Fightin’ Herds' action fuses beautifully. One would assume that there would be issues with hitbox perception when using quadrupedal characters, but it’s been tuned to ensure that the connects are as solid, intuitive, and as easy to pull off as the genre's better-known games.

While the backgrounds aren’t particularly impactful or memorable, the character roster certainly is. Arizona’s cow horn brunt, Pom’s pup helpers, Velvet’s Christmas reindeer ice conjuring, and Shanty’s pirate wall-hugging abilities all function in diverse fashion and can be delved into and mined for offensive strategies. Some characters benefit from unique attributes, too, like double jumps and air dashes. Utilising light, medium, strong, and an additional EX attack, the four-button setup is more than enough owing to the range of special moves and supers on offer.

It’s not quite as zany as Guilty Gear, but its furious combo building isn’t dissimilar in function. It’s a more complex affair than certain Street Fighter entries, and its target audience is certainly not in the beginner plot. At the same time, it feels really good to play. There’s time and space to pre-load button inputs to make your connects work, and with a little memory work, you’re soon able to launch into glorious, showy strings,

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

The game is feature rich and highly adjustable in its options, too — everything is laid out in a simple and easy-to-understand manner. And of course, it delights as a local or online multiplayer experience, where rollback netcode and the option to tweak your settings succeed where so many other veteran developers have failed. This is rightly one of the game’s most critical assets and, with the option of cross-platform play, makes Them's Fightin' Herds an must-buy for hardcore fans of the genre.

Conclusion

Them’s Fightin’ Herds isn’t entry-level stuff, and it's impressive that an indie developer has created something that professional teams take years to master. Soft and furry in appearance though it is, this is a robust and fleshed-out fighting game, and one that demands practice. It’s challenging even on its default difficulty with AI that won’t fall prey to simple or repetitive routines. While its story mode is engineered toward a particular fanbase, the wild combo-building demonstrates an excellent multiplayer experience. Thematically, its draw might be limited, but there’s no real ceiling in its appeal to fighting game fans. While would have been nice to have had a few more characters out of the box and a little more invention in its world-building backgrounds, if you’re here for pure fighting game action, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.