The world is a scary place, but sometimes magic can still happen. In the wake of Evo 2020’s cancellation, an online event has been established in its place. Evo Online is a different brand from “core” Evo, which is almost meaningless until you look at the lineup. This is the oddest collection of misfit toys in fighting games, and a lot of that is attributable to rollback netcode. Among the games is Them’s Fightin’ Herds, which just came out at the tail end of April 2020. This is a game that went to Pony Hell and back, surviving technical challenges, a cease and desist, and of course the normal trials and tribulations of game dev. Now it’s here, and it’s totally worth its Evo Online spot.
I don’t know a lot about “Brony” culture, but I do know that’s how Them’s Fightin’ Herds came to be. What started as a piece of fan art turned into a fan game, a project with so much buzz around it that even My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic creator Lauren Faust got involved. Hasbro did too, unfortunately, and the project (then called My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic) got the ol’ Nintendo treatment. But after re-branding and even more input from Faust, Them’s Fightin’ Herds came to fruition. It has its problems, stemming from its scale as an indie game, but is also held up with such a high level of polish that it’s immediately fun to play.
Them’s Fightin’ Herds has a tiny roster, an unforgivable sin in contemporary fighting games. If you’re the kind of fighting fan that loves diving into deep rosters, you might be disappointed with this game at launch. That’s especially true as Them’s Fightin’ Herds often leans on fighter tropes and familiar moves, albeit modified to fit the very different character proportions we’re playing with here. If you look at other reviews this is the chief complaint; that variety is just not on the table here. Sometimes I felt like I had run out of interesting options, and other times I felt like Them’s Fightin’ Herds had too hard a time removing itself from its original fan game status. But considering the scope and how far this game has come, these are small potatoes.
What’s great about Them’s Fightin’ Herds is how thoroughly solid it feels in your hands. Indie/low-budget fighting games can often, well, feel like indie/low-budget fighting games when you’re playing them. Sometimes it’s from janky or unimpressive visuals (see the otherwise dope Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid), other times it’s from systems that don’t quite come together well. But while Them’s Fightin’ Herds is more worried about function than innovation, it gets the function down sharp as a tack. This game moves and feels like a AAA fighter, with a smoothness to the way it looks in motion, perfectly responsive inputs, and incredible 2D animation and VO.
If it wasn’t for the COVID-19 pandemic, Them’s Fightin’ Herds wouldn’t have been on the “main stage” at Evo 2020. It’s a great game with an Evo-adjacent history even, but it’s a matter of scale and scope. But when it comes to what’s needed for Evo Online to work on the level it needs to, Them’s Fightin’ Herds is a perfect title to come in to pinch-hit, like a global health crisis version of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. Function over form is the name of the game when it comes to an online tournament that wants to be taken seriously, and with its rollback online play and amazing degree of polish for a game of its size, Them’s Fightin’ Herds will likely be a standout for all the fans watching from home.
Them’s Fightin’ Herds is currently available for the PC.