Them’s Fightin’ Herds is…
The tutorial alone makes me want to be able to suggest Them’s Fightin’ Herds, as it is hands-down the best tutorial I’ve ever seen in a fighting game. It covers from the most basic concepts to character-specific advanced material, and does it in a way that doesn’t feel annoying or offensive. It is well-written and well-constructed.
However, there is one thing in particular that stands in the way of suggesting it as an introductory game… It isn’t what I’d consider an introductory game; it is an anime-style fighter with long combos and cancels and other stuff. This gets into one of my long-standing concerns for the future of fighting games, in that the entry barrier to even basic competence has only increased over time. For someone who plays a fair amount of fighting games, doing a 3-hit combo into a launcher into a jump-cancel to perform another 3-hit air combo is a trivial task; it’s just a string of eight basic inputs (either single button or button+single-direction) executed within a relatively reasonable time frame. Indeed, this is treated as a basic task in the tutorial, right after teaching what the different attack buttons are. For someone who has never played a fighting game, this might be a serious sticking point. And this is dirt-basic execution stuff, if you can’t do this then you probably aren’t suited for modern fighters.
Anyway, on to the game itself (and eventually its other big issue)…
First, the background. Them’s Fightin’ Herds started as something of a joke, some parody artwork of a theoretical Marvel vs Capcom game for My Little Pony. That turned into the development of an actual fighting game, My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic. While many would probably shout at the devs for starting such an unlicensed project, Hasbro had been relatively tolerant of MLP fan works.
However, the fan-game would eventually perhaps gain a bit too much publicity for Hasbro. The tipping point was considered to be major fighting game tournament EVO 2013, where Fighting is Magic was one of the options for the charity-driven eighth line-up spot. It wasn’t long after that Hasbro sent a Cease & Desist to the project. The devs tried to work out a deal with Hasbro, but nothing could be arranged.
At this point, the idea of the game had gained traction in both the MLP community and the fighting game community. The creator of Friendship is Magic, the MLP series the game was based on, contacted the devs with an offer to create all-new non-infringing characters for a spiritual sequel. LabZero, the dev studio behind Skullgirls and Indivisible, supplied their fighting game engine to the project. Humble Bundle would later offer additional funding, in addition to assisting with cross-promotion efforts. That spiritual successor would be Them’s Fightin’ Herds.
So, the game itself. Them’s Fightin’ Herds is still Early Access, but it is already pretty darn polished. The Skullgirls engine is really good, and a lot of care has been put into this game. The story mode is still absent. As is the case with many fighting games these days, online is still a priority. However, Them’s Fightin’ Herds at least also offers a weird kind of pseudo-co-op online mode where you fight AI “monsters” while mining “salt”.
But all of this evolution from a half-joke fan project to a serious high production quality full endeavor has come at a cost, and this is the other big caveat of the game… The game has only six characters. A seventh character may or may not be coming as a future paid DLC release.
Ultimately, I’d say that if you were curious, you might be best served by looking at some YouTube videos first. Them’s Fightin’ Herds in some ways is already a more polished release than many other fighting games, with more bells, whistles, and general care. At the same time, you have to acknowledge that it also offers less in other areas. And some will be turned off that all the characters are four-legged animals.