Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A group of cartoon, technicolour horse-like creatures – one of whom is voiced by Tara Strong – each with their own personality quirk, distinguishing design and special power, must band together to defend the fantastical world they inhabit from an assortment of daft threats. This adventure, originally based on an intellectual property intended for children, ends up taking on a fairly sophisticated approach and attracts a sizable periphery demographic of adults. Sound familiar? It should – but I’m not describing what you think I’m describing. Them’s Fightin’ Herds, a nutty fighting game starring one of the industry’s first all-ungulate casts (three cheers for inclusion!) began life as a tie-in to that evergreen staple of internet meme culture, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
Since the game is now nearing a wide release on next-generation consoles, we reckoned it was about time to pool together everything you need to know about it; of course, other sites have discussed the game before, so we don’t want to beat the dead… ooh. Awkward. I apologise. I’ll rein in the horse puns. I don’t want to stirrup trouble.
Courtroom Proceedings Are Magic
Getting off my high horse and returning to the point: developers Mane6, who consist of nine average folks that just happen to be raging fans of the MLP franchise, set off in the early 2010s to create a fighting title based around the show. Making use of the Fighter Maker 2D engine, which allows for a diverse range of animations and move inputs, and drawing inspiration from Marvel VS Capcom, the team laboured away. They were soon able to turn in a working pre-alpha, and it looked rather cool. This dropped just in time for the July 2012 Evolution Championship Series, to which the crew was invited to show off the game. Though this served to drum up hype, in the fandom and out, for the stylishly-designed brawler, it also unfortunately put the game smack bang in the crosshairs of Hasbro’s legal team. It turned out they’d been watching; cautiously, unerringly watching, waiting for them to put a toe (or hoof) over the line of the definition of ‘fangame’.
To their credit, Mane6 had been behaving themselves up to that point. The game was to be released free-to-play, and no advertising revenue was to be made. It also likely helped that they’d kept it more or less away from prying public eyes. Sadly, the brass decided openly hawking it at a gaming event was probably a step too far, and slapped Mane6 with a cease and desist in February 2013.
A Faustian bargain
There’s a happy ending, though. Not only were the team able to retool what they’d made, stripping it completely free of anything that might raise Hasbro’s twitching eyebrows, but they were able to refine it into a better, more polished product. Though the cast of new equines (who now included other species, like an alpaca and a cow) were legally distinct from the MLP gang, some tenuous connections and homages remained.
Chief among them were Tara Strong being cast as a lead character, and head showrunner Lauren Faust actually stepping in and helping with the game’s character designs. No hard feelings, eh Lauren? Just effortlessly boost this indie game’s credibility with a single stroke of your brush, why don’tcha.
A tale of six (almost) horses
So, how did it turn out? Them’s Fightin’ Herds ended its tumultuous journey through development Hell in late 2020, when it finally hit PC and Mac. Reception was largely positive, though the devs noted frustration in trying to get cynical gamers to overlook the My Little Pony connection and take the experience seriously. Once these prejudices were overcome, most early punters walked away happy. What can you, the player, expect from the title when it goes into wide release next month? Glad you asked.
You’ll be able to pick between a story mode and online multiplayer. The story deals with carnivorous beasts known as Predators invading the kingdom of Foenum. There’s a lot of bonkers twists and turns concerning ‘Key Seekers’, ‘Key Keepers’, champion battles, underworlds and enough other key-related phrases mixed with cartoon animals to make you wonder whether you didn’t accidentally pop in a copy of Kingdom Hearts.
Play with your own herd
The real meat of the game, however, is the multiplayer. You have your pick of cows, reindeers, unicorns, and any other exotic mammal Mane6 could get away with using. Each has their own benefit they can bring to the battlefield. Arizona the Cow, for example, is the much-vaunted Tara Strong cameo who rocks more special moves than you can shake an udder at.
Simplicity was key to the developers’ ethos when they were putting the game together. Therefore, Them’s Fightin’ Herds makes use of a three-button control system. As a result, anyone can pick it up and have a (literal) bash.
If you’re married to the Smash Bros. control scheme, you will feel right at home. The developers explicitly created the mechanics and adaptable button mapping to feel similar. Hey, know your audience! Gotta be a lot of fandom overlap there. Interactive waiting lobbies and a high-tech replay system round out this meaty package. (Back off, Findus. Metaphorically meaty.)
Them’s Fightin’ Herds is coming to Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC on October 18th. Depending on the edition you spring for, the game will cost between $20 to $30. You can also pre-order the game now.
Just don’t bother trying to get the pre-order bonuses after the 18th. That’s about as smart as trying to close the stable door after the… well, you know.
Will you be picking up Them’s Fightin’ Herds? Let us know!