Them’s Fightin’ Herds – First Sip Review
Them’s Fightin’ Herds is a fighting game developed by Mane6 Inc. and published by the illustrious Humble Games. Frequent readers of our website will be familiar with the title as we have run not one but two interviews with one of Mane6 Inc.’s developers. Firstly about the story mode and then a follow up focused on DLC and potential console releases. However, despite these two interviews we have yet to run a review of the game. And that’s where this comes in. It’s time to look a little deeper into the specific aspects of Them’s Fightin’ Herds.
As mentioned above the team at Mane6 Inc. have been hard at work on their story mode. However, at this stage, only the beginning of the story has been released. This section sets up the overarching story and then focuses on Arizona the cow fighter. The overarching story is that the world of Foenum has been relatively at peace. However, the different regions filled with their specific breeds of Ungulate animals (hooved animals). Don’t really get along too well with the other regions which isn’t too much of a problem that is until the predators long since banished from Foenum begin plotting their return. And it seems their return hinges on finding a mystical “prophet’s key”. So the council of Ungulates decides to send champion representatives from each of the regions to find the key themselves as the chairman knows that the regions will never agree on a single champion.
Episode one follows Arizona on a journey from the homestead out to the town as the cow’s champion. It plays out a lot like a children’s TV show but I mean that in the best way. Arizona is a spunky little hero whose journey is filled with humor and danger in almost equal measures. It’s just a teaser for what will eventually come when the other episodes are completed. However, it’s a strong start and makes me excited to see where the story goes next.
The art style of Them’s Fightin’ Herds might remind you of a specific animal-themed TV show. And you’d be right to think that. The game actually started as a fan project for a My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic inspired fighting game. However, as noted in the aforementioned interviews the project was shut-down and then reborn with the assistance of Lauren Faust who helped design some wholly distinct characters to take the place of the trademarked equines. The game is also built in the Skullgirls engine which was custom made to support hand-drawn art in a fighting game. So naturally, with these things combined the game looks really lovely.
However, as lovely as the hand-drawn art is, the developers didn’t stop there. The story mode and lobbies are designed in a pixel-art style and include cosmetics to give some flair to your pixelized fighter. Sadly the costumes/flair don’t extend to the battle artwork, but I can imagine how much additional work each item would add for a merely cosmetic change.
Overall, whether they are hand-drawn or pixel art the designs of the characters are super fun and well implemented. The design also really pulls together each character’s moveset. And that’s another big checkmark in the win column.
Coming into the game I already knew it looked great from promotional art. I also knew the story was going to be interesting from our interview. But what I didn’t know was how the sound would match up. And I’m happy to report that it exceeded my expectations. Right out of the gate when you boot the game up you’ll get some killer menu music. And when you select a character you can even hear how the theme changes for each hero. For instance, the dragon character adds an Eastern flair to the music. While the rustic cow adds a country-rock sort of twang to proceedings. It would be interesting for each character to have an individual theme like in most fighting games. But hearing one theme essentially with a different coat of paint for each character is a bold move and it paid off well.
Then we have the story mode music. There are a number of different themes for exploration, battle, mountains, valleys, tunnels, and towns. And they all sound really fantastic, some are high-octane rock, others have an 8-bit retro style. But they all share a few things in common, notably how well they fit with their respective scenes.
Sound-effects are pretty standard for a fighting game. A lot of wooshes, swooshes, impacts, and the like. And some little exertion noises to make it feel more like the character is alive.
Story mode is not voiced. But I can tell why, there is a fair bit of dialogue which would take a long time to record and implement, not to mention the costs associated. And they have gone to the effort of implementing different pitch dialogue tones for characters generally based on size (larger characters have deeper tones while smaller ones have higher pitch).
Now with the story mode, the game has a few different gameplay aspects. The major aspect, of course, being the 1 on 1 fighting. And unfortunately for me, that’s one of the weakest aspects of the game. The developers have put a lot of effort into designing distinct characters with their own quirks and playstyles. These aspects are best displayed with the “magic” attack button. For instance, Arizona uses a lasso to pull an enemy in close, while Pom the sheep summons her dogs and Paprika the lama throws edible items and potted plants. There are other traits that all characters share such as basic combos. But really other than the magic and a couple of special techniques all the characters are basically the same and are somewhat awkward to use.
Now I’m not a massive fighting game fan, but I have played my fair share of titles. And unfortunately, the feel of the characters puts this game fairly low on my list. As a casual gamer things just feel sluggish and frustrating. I feel like more hardcore fighting game enthusiasts might get more out of the gameplay but it still wouldn’t be topping any of the current genre leaders. Perhaps there are some higher-level skills that I just have not learned yet but even against low-level AI you can get stunned and combo locked pretty easily. However, I never lost a match and most of them I won simply by spamming the crouching attack.
The story mode has an almost Final Fantasy RPG feel to it, as you explore, solve puzzles, find items, and battle enemies and bosses. However, you don’t really gain anything from the fights and they do feel very samey after a few so it would be better to just skip anything that doesn’t reward you with an item or progress the story. It reminds me a little of the Konquest mode in Mortal Kombat, however, it would really benefit from either less fights or more purpose to the fights. That being said, the bosses are genuinely interesting and inventive fights. One of the first ones is a giant snake that you fight in waves mostly dodging until you can get back to fight it. It’s a really cool fight that reminds me a little of the melded battle system in Indivisible.
There are also various platforming sections that use the game’s quickstep, short hop, and super jump aspects. On one hand, they make really cool little tutorials for those features. But on the other hand, there is a good reason most fighting games don’t include platforming sections.
The game looks really good, sounds really great, the concept is fun, the story is exciting. Essentially the game has almost all the features to be amazing. But what it really needs is a more accessible battle system for casual gamers. Even adding (or possibly just teaching if there are in there) basics like guard-breaking and a way to stop an enemy from comboing you to oblivion. The current roster of characters is very fun and cute. But there are currently only 6 playable characters which is well below genre standards even the original Street Fighter 2 had 8 characters (although Ryu and Ken are pretty similar but that’s still 7). Our interview with Mane6 Inc. did confirm the seventh character is in the works and beyond that, they’d like to expand the roster to at least 10 fighters. However, at this stage 6 is what we have.
For an early access game, most aspects are fairly polished. And you can feel the love and energy the team have put into the current build. I can only imagine that things will be continuing to be refined and added over the coming months and years. The game has a pretty supportive community and has even teamed up with some other well-known titles including Skullgirls, BlazBlue and Guilty Gear.
In Coffee Terms
A pretty simple one, in coffee terms this game is like a caramel macchiato with all the toppings. It looks good, it’s sweet as heck, but it also has that strong coffee kick. Right now the balance between bitter and sweet might be a little off but with a little more refinement it’ll be a drink to tell your friends about.
Them’s Fightin’ Herds Links
One half of the YouTube brother duo, The Game Bros with Sirhc and Ar0n, Chris is a lover of games, movies and other great things you can do from home.
Coffee of choice: I like the sweeter kinds, mixed with chocolate, coconut, caramel etc. but I won’t turn down a flat white or a straight black either.