While the title might indicate that 2 Fast 4 Gnomz could be the marriage of Miami street racing and gnome culture we've all been waiting for, what we have instead is a much-improved eShop version of QubicGames' WiiWare runner of the same name. In fact, the title's silly, Prince-esque number usage and 90's-edgy "z" belie the fact that 2 Fast 4 Gnomz is a fun, challenging, and solid endless runner that's well worth playing.
Opening with a cutscene wherein you're instructed by your gnome king to bring back both a princess and a lot of socks, this is a game that immediately wears its silliness on its tiny sleeve. It's got a charming aesthetic and is genuinely funny, especially with the twist on the "our princess is in another castle" trope that plays out after each world.
Like BIT.TRIP RUNNER and other similar games, 2 Fast 4 Gnomz consists chiefly of charging ceaselessly from left to right, avoiding obstacles along the way. You'll do that by jumping, but also by transforming instantaneously into different gnome forms ("formz", presumably) by holding down a direction on the D-pad. These give you the ability to float on the breeze, drop like a rock, burst into warp speed, and even turn back time, and the interplay between all these different options makes for some spectacular — and incredibly devious — level designs. It feels a bit like a turbocharged game of digital Bop-It!, and when you're in the groove it feels absolutely wonderful.
Make no mistake, though — you will lose that groove. Gnomz will die. There's a death counter on the bottom screen which, we're sadly able to confirm, is well capable of handling triple digits. This is a tough game that necessitates ninja-like reflexes and platforming skills, a lot of repetition, and often memorization. But a near-instant re-spawn rate and plenty of checkpoints keeps the frustration level relatively low, and makes sure everything moves at a quick clip. It's one-more-try addicting rather than 3DS-toss frustrating.
Back when we reviewed the WiiWare original, there were a few nagging issues that brought the game down quite a bit, and we're happy to report that this eShop version is a definite improvement. First and most importantly, the controls are now immediately responsive, which makes a huge difference in this type of demanding gameplay. Your gnomes jump just when you'd expect them too, and the billions of inevitable deaths you'll experience along the way will be well and truly earned. Second, the addition of stereoscopic 3D elegantly solves the problem we had of background elements looking like obstacles and vice-versa. With the 3D effect enabled, everything's neatly delineated: anything on the gnome's plane is an obstacle, while anything behind the gnome is decoration. Even if you choose to play in 2D, the background layers are distinguished by their softer colouring, which is a subtler but still helpful indication.
Playing without the 3D effect would be a shame, however, because 2 Fast 4 Gnomz makes excellent use of it. Multi-layered backgrounds fly by in parallactic motion as leaves or snow blow past in the foreground; it looks wonderful, especially in motion. The beautifully done cutscenes benefit greatly from the depth as well. The graphics are vibrant and colourful, and match the lighthearted, cartoony feel of the game. There are some lovely touches too, like the death animation: errant gnomz don't simply fall over or blink and disappear, they burst into pixels like tiny fireworks, lending a celebratory feel to each smashing failure. The soundtrack is catchy, if a bit repetitive, though luckily this is a game that's perfect to play in short bursts, so it's a good fit.
With four seasonally-themed worlds of ten levels apiece, plus five Nightmare stages unlocked by doing well on the first 40 levels, 2 Fast 4 Gnomz packs a pretty good run for $4.99. The game keeps track of your best sock count (very important!), time, and death records for each stage, and going back for perfect runs will add a ton of replay value for players so inclined. Another nice replay incentive is that while new abilities are doled out as you progress through the game's four worlds, once they're unlocked you can use them in previous stages, which opens them up for further exploration. That said, with no online leaderboards or score tables for friends to compete on the same system, these options aren't going to be very compelling unless you enjoy besting your own previous efforts.
Don't let the lawn gnome theme or silly title scare you away — 2 Fast 4 Gnomz is a great little eShop effort. It's fast, fun, and challenging, with a charming art style and a sense of humour running through the entire experience. It won't win any points for originality, but what's here is done well, and fans of tough endless runners will have a great time with these little guys.