I wanted to start this preview addressing the elephant in the room. I haven’t watched My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I have seen a random chapter once with my niece and I found it funny, but that’s about it. That being said I do watch a lot of cartoons and really liked the art style of the show. As a backer of SkullGirls I remember hearing about this fighting game based on My Little Pony, but never really cared much about it. That was until a couple of weeks ago when the trailer for Them’s Fightin’ Herds was released online. I was totally sucked into it and I needed to play this game, ponies or not!
Gather ‘round people, it’s story time! Back in 2012 a group of fans started to work on a fighting game inspired by Marvel vs Capcom but using the characters from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. After becoming somewhat famous and getting a lot of attention from the fighting community due to its original concept of using non-human characters and a unique style, the team got a cease and desist from Hasbro, practically killing the project. However the team didn’t give up, and started working on a spiritual successor using original characters instead. This caught the attention of Lauren Faust, creator of MLP: Friendship is Magic, who then helped the team create original characters for their new game.
Then, while Lab-Zero worked on their Indiegogo campaign to add more characters to SkullGirls they added a new funding goal that they would give their engine to Mane6 to continue working on Them’s Fightin’ Herds. This goal was reached and Mane6 ported their work to the new engine, launching their own Indiegogo campaign later which funded their work on the game. And that brings us to today, with the game having been released via Steam on Early Access.
I feel the need to talk about the struggles behind this game because it fills me with hope that this is an industry where fans can manage to find success while working on a passion project like this. But having said that, this is still a game, and if the gameplay is not good then it won’t be worth sharing. So let’s dive into the fighting system.
As you may have seen from the screenshots, this is a 2D fighting game, with high mobility similar to Arc System’s Guilty Gear or Dragon Ball FighterZ. It is based on three attack buttons corresponding to light, medium and heavy attacks, and an additional button dedicated to Magic, which I’ll explain later. Similar to many fighting games you can chain attacks ranging from light to heavy for the basic combo, but you can add attacks in between to create more complex attacks. There is a unique system created to stop infinite combos in which the more you attack an opponent the heavier they become, which should stop any simple chain from going infinite.
Since the goal of the game is to be accessible, most of the special attacks are executed by doing the quarter-circle motion on the control pad, plus an attack button. The effect of the attack will vary depending on the button used, so a light version of an attack would be faster and deal less damage than a heavy version, for example. Regular attacks will charge the super meter, which can be used to launch a super attack with a quarter-circle motion plus two attack buttons at the same time.
Up to this point everything is pretty standard for fighting games today. Where Them’s Fightin’ Herds innovates is in the use of Magic. Each character has an additional Magic meter that is used to launch unique attacks. But unlike the special meter which charges by fighting, Magic is charged differently for each character. Arizona, for example, can only charge Magic by grabbing an opponent with her lasso attack. Oleander needs to read her magic book during fights to charge her spells, and Velvet charges automatically and has a bigger meter, with the downside that her attacks need more than one bar to work. This creates a unique balance to the game. You could focus on simple attacks, or look for a way to trigger their Magic and unleash even stronger attacks. Also, this makes all the characters unique, with a very different fighting style based not only on their attacks but their Magic as well.
Currently the game is missing the story mode, but you can fight against the CPU in Arcade, against friends locally or even go online and fight against strangers. For the online component it uses a lobby system similar to what Arc System has introduced in their games in which you control your character on a top-down lobby, where you can walk around, chat with other players, and challenge them to a game.
There’s also a training mode in which you have to destroy all the targets, which will force you to learn the attacks of each character and how to chain them together for the quickest time in each level. But as I mentioned, this is still an Early Access game and that comes with a couple of caveats to take into account.
There are some unfinished graphics in the game. So while all the character’s moves work, some will show doodles instead of the proper animation. The character’s intro to the fight is not synchronized properly, so you will hear them talk and then move their mouths. Also, the game only has six characters and a boss enemy at the end of arcade. Most of us are used to roosters of 20 or more characters so this will feel odd at first, but at least the characters in the game are really unique, not only among themselves but even compared in tactics and movements to other fighting games.
And my last gripe is that, while I see the developers wanted to make a game that anyone can play, the truth is that this is a very complex video game. The AI difficulty is set to Normal by default but I couldn’t beat it, so I had to tone it down to Easy, and even then I found it quite challenging. While I’m not a pro at fighting games I usually can beat the AI on their standard settings with no issue, so this is something that clearly still needs balancing.
Ignoring the placeholder art and animations, the game looks stunning. This may be in part thanks to the Z-Engine, but the animation looks really fluid and it seems really taken out of a cartoon. Alongside with one of the best soundtracks I have heard on a fighting game this is definitely an amazing package that fighting fans shouldn’t ignore.
So in conclusion, this is a game that really surprised me when I looked at the trailer, and then again when I actually played it. For a team made mainly of fans of My Little Pony I wasn’t expecting to find such a finely tuned fighting game, and yet this game could easily be one of the top games of EVO with the proper support. If you’re into fighting games, or like the art style of Lauren Faust, get this game, just be aware that some things are not finished yet. $15 is a fair price for a game of this quality and maybe it will give you a head start into the next big fighting game series. Or at least it will be a fun and unique experience.