Them's Fightin' Herds
The Stable Origins
The year is 2012 and the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom was at its absolute peak with what began as a small niche for what many considered a children's show. It was one of those eras where "you had to be there," in order to fully capture what made the series a hit amongst its older audience. As someone who had briefly touched the rabbit hole, I can say that Friendship is Magic was up there with Steven Universe and Adventure Time in terms of popularity, largely due to similar fanbases blending with each other. It would also be the catalyst to what I consider one of the best fighting games released, Them's Fightin' Herds.
Initially, the game was created as a fanmade fighting game based on Friendship Is Magic, titled Fighting Is Magic, using the main characters from the show as its fighting game roster. Despite its origins based on hypothetical memes ("Marevel vs Clopcom") it was a well-made project, to the surprise of many who would try it. This was also during the budding years of content creation and many in the FGC were on board with its development. Most touted it as a spiritual successor to Marvel vs Capcom 3 and at the time it was a sound argument to make.
Unfortunately, all press wasn't good press. Despite the many accolades the game received, it wasn't immune to legal issues. Hasbro, the owner of the My Little Pony IP, sent a cease & desist to Mane6 which they obliged. Fans of the original game had used the assets from the original Fighting is Magic to pick up where the original devs left off. One such game, Aurora, is currently active but Hasbro's legal action was where the official development of the My Little Pony fighting game ended.
With no choice but to start from scratch, a blessing came to the development of Them's Fightin' Herds in the eleventh hour. The creator of Friendship Is Magic herself, Lauren Faust, offered to be the character designer as well as the narrative director for the main story. Impressed with the love poured into the original project, she wanted to help the original team fulfill their dreams and expand into something more. With the backing of several other fighting game devs, including Lab Zero Games at the time, Them's Fightin' Herds rose like a phoenix and was released on April 2020.
Introducing The Best Fighting Game Ever?
The base roster features an all-woman cast of various four-legged mammals from fantasy origins to those grounded in realism. Animals from a cow, reindeer, sheep, unicorn, alpaca, dragon horse and a goat are all present with each character playing different from the other. Aside from the involvement of Faust, there are elements of the My Little Pony and Fighting Is Magic projects. Arizona is essentially Apple Jack, Oleander is Twilight Sparkle, and other examples within the game.
Underneath the colorful and witty surface of the graphics, art design, and characters lies a mechanically sound fighting game. As mentioned in the headline, Them's Fightin' Herds is a solid contender for one of the best fighting games I've played for two solid reasons. It introduces newcomers to fighting games without "babying" them while also giving them the tools for veterans to excel as well. For starters, Them's Fightin' Herds is a four-button game. Light, Medium, and Heavy attacks are coupled with a "Magic Button" that highlight's a character's trait.
Arizona, who is considered the "central character" of the game, has a lasso that gives her a magic stock should she trap an opponent with it. This magic stock is then used to amplify her headbutt and ground stomp attacks. Having magic stock is also important for one of her combo enders following her super. Likewise, an actual user of magic, Oleander, can summon her grimoire with magic stock. Not every character has access to "magic," but it's what's perceived by the character herself.
No matter how difficult or ease of use each character is, they all follow a universal combo. A, B, C into Air A, B ,C will work no matter who the player is playing as, meaning it's easy to fill in the blanks as they go. I highly recommend players of all skill levels go through the tutorial. It not only teaches the player how to play the game but there are things taught here that can be applied to other fighting games.
There's a section of the tutorial that speaks about advanced tech and terminologies, as narrated by Oleander's grimoire, Fred. Up until this point, Oleander is teaching the character how to play but even this is too much for her to narrate, so of course, the cursed artifact takes over. What makes the tutorial great is that in this section, there are "big scary buzzwords" like frame data, hitboxes, and frame advantages that are handled very well with real-time examples.
This also segues into the game's training mode, offering players an impressive package of features that don't exist in MOST popular fighting games. There's a timetable of frame data that shows when an attack is active when it will hit the opponent, as well as their recovery frames. Each move is told which is "plus" and "negative" in real-time as well as adjusting the in-game speed to see the effect happen frame by frame.
To put this in perspective, during the recent Street Fighter 6 beta, Capcom implemented a training mode that offers many of the same features as Them's Fightin' Herds, years later. This shows how important these tools are for fighting games as well as just how ahead of the curve Mane6 was from everyone else.
The Story Is One Big FiP Episode
With Lauren Faust being the narrative director of Them's Fightin' Herds, it's expected that there's a lot of "magic" and personality to be had. Rather than using the whole "world warrior tournament" trope, TFH focuses on each of the competitors being chosen as a "champion" to obtain a key and save the world on their behalf. Each chapter tells the story of a different character, with the first chapter focusing on Arizona the Cow.
Arizona is a calf who always feels she needs to prove herself amongst her tribe as well as those outside it. When it came time to answer the call of duty, Arizona was the first to step up to the plate. Much to the chagrin of her father, Texas, who is protective of her daughter, her mother encourages Arizona to go out on her journey to become an adult. The Story mode gameplay differs from the main fighting gameplay drastically.
Each chapter begins with the character in a top-down world similar to Legend of Zelda or Pokemon. Arizona can interact with various NPCs, obtain items that she can equip and wear, and destroy obstacles in her path. There are several points in each level where Arizona must travel and leap across gaps, serving as a 2D platforming brawler. In the overworld, there are enemies she can fight, which transitions into the fighting game engine of TFH but as "Player VS Environment."
I was impressed with the transition from a solid fighting game, teaching players fundamentals and "deep fighting game terminologies," to an expansive RPG-like game that tells the story of each character. Mane6 could have gone the "easier approach" and told the story through cutscenes with battles that don't stray far from its origin. Instead, they placed a "game within a game," similar to Ehrgeiz, the PlayStation 1 fighting game that had a dungeon-crawling story alongside its fighting game counterpart.
With literally hours of content for single players as well as robust online multiplayer due to rollback netcode, Them's Fightin' Herds is expected to be just as impactful on consoles as it was on the PC. One of 2020's best games is finally given its chance to gallop into the hearts of many fans of fighting games and light-hearted storytelling. I've been a fan of the game since then and seeing how it blossomed over the years, this is definitely a must-own for all players alike.
Them's Fightin' Herds is now available on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. Thank you once again to the devs and publisher for allowing me to review this game!