Them's Fightin' Herds

I am admittedly not a hardcore fan of the fighting game genre, so I am perhaps not the best candidate to test out a new fighting game. But when offered the chance to go hands-on with Them’s Fightin’ Herds, without previous knowledge of what to expect outside of being told this was supposedly a My Little Pony–esque fighter (sans any actual licensed tie-in), I have to admit I was curious. 

I was hoping for a zany, Smash Bros-styled beat-’em-up, as I felt like that was my best-case scenario for actually being able to stand a chance. But instead, Them’s Fightin’ Herds is more of a traditional arcade fighter — at least, outside of its odd story mode. It even has local versus in addition to an online component, as well as a more traditional arcade mode. It definitely checks all of the right boxes, which surprised me, since I dove into the story mode straight out the gate and was left scratching my head by just how much expository dialogue Herd’s kicked off with.

In the arcade mode, you pick one of seven four-legged fighters, each with its own color, characteristics and fighting style, for lack of a better assessment. It’s pretty straightforward from there; each character has their own dedicated move set to master. There are light and heavy attacks, projectiles, and Dragon Punch-style thumbstick-roll attacks, with meter-based super moves that build up with successive hits and can be unleashed for maximum damage. 

Them's Fightin' Herds

It’s pretty par for the course, but the animal aesthetic is unique (and mildly adorable); it gives Herds an almost Happy Tree Friends kind of flair, as it mixes cute animals with brutal beatdowns.

The backgrounds are nicely drawn, and they are so bright and colorful that I’d almost call them saccharine. And aside from the general, copious amounts of cartoon violence, I could see Herds latching onto a younger fighting game audience — although it certainly has enough depth to attract a fanbase of older or veteran fighting-game enthusiasts as well. 

The story mode is a whole ‘nother beast, and I am not quite sure who it would even be for. It’s chockablock full of text to read as characters interact with one another and progress the narrative, replete with those early-Nintendo-style beeps and boops in place of actual voiced dialogue.

The story mode is basically a top-down pixel-style RPG, but it occasionally transitions into more cel-animated style side-scrolling sections, which require the player to do light platforming. It’s jarring at first, and it never really becomes less so considering the infrequent shifts from the top-down aspect. It always feels just a bit odd, especially considering the not-quite-intuitive and almost downright bizarre control scheme for these sections. But they are typically short — at least in the early game — so that’s a blessing at least.

Them's Fightin' Herds

The controls in the top-down segments are somewhat loosey-goosey, and it feels like you’re trying to navigate on ice skates with blades of helium in an ocean made of oatmeal. And if that doesn’t make sense, that sums up how I felt trying to describe the experience. There is a ton of Mystic Quest-style hand-holdy traversal through canyons and caves in the early game, with pretty much one direct path and the occasional branching ones, some of which can lead to extra resources or rare treasure. And when you encounter any of the on-screen enemy character models moving about, instead of triggering a traditional RPG turn-based action sequence, Herds goes into fighting-game mode. 

This aspect is actually kind of cool and interesting — instead of having to navigate turn-based menus or even real-time combat sequences, you instead get to mix it up mano a mano in a Street Fighter-style brawl. In this way, instead of fighting a parade of enemies lined up in a row, you defeat them one after another, as those milling in the background jump into the fray once the previous foe is toppled. I haven’t really played a mashup like this before, so it was novel if nothing else.

But during fighting segments, I always felt like the enemy was much better at bridging the gap than I was. In fact, I would say it reminds me more of classic Mortal Kombat rather than the zippier Street Fighter or Darkstalkers series.

There are also boss fights that either pit you against a bigger, tougher baddie with a couple of grunts, or something else. For example, in one early instance, I had to fight a big snake on a sort of multi-tiered plain, dodging attacks that ran the gamut from falling projectiles to tail-based attacks. It was a clever way to mix things up, but the execution was confusing and frustrating.

Them's Fightin' Herds

And that pretty much sums up my overall experience with Them’s Fightin’ Herds; one part confusing, one part frustrating, with a healthy side serving of general malaise from the boilerplate, kind-of-lukewarm narrative.

As I stated at the outset, I just might not be the target audience here, so it’s quite possible Them’s Fightin’ Herds might be lost on me from jump. I can see Bronies and hardcore fighter enthusiasts really getting a kick out of this, but I am neither Bronie nor hardcore fighter enthusiast. Even so, if Herds lands on something like Game Pass, I smell a bit of a sleeper hit on the developer’s hands.

Disclaimer: I was given a review code for Them’s Fightin’ Herds on Xbox Series S, but the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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