The Nintendo 3DS eShop certainly isn't lacking good games nowadays and just like in the retail market, the more popular titles grab almost all the attention from both media and gamers alike. Good games from less well known studios tend to get overlooked and 2 Fast 4 Gnomz is definitely one of them.
The story of 2 Fast 4 Gnomz is as simple as possible. A gnome is sent on a journey by a king to find a princess and collect hundreds of socks. The game features four worlds with ten levels each and five Nightmare levels to unlock. In each stage, the goal is to get to the end by avoiding all the obstacles and collecting as many socks as possible. The gnome is running on his own, which makes the game quite fast-paced and a lot more challenging because of having to dodge hazards almost immediately after they appear. This is done by jumping with the A button or using four special powers with the D-pad or, alternatively, the Circle Pad.
The four abilities are acquired throughout the game and all of them are put to use regularly once obtained. The first power allows gliding by intuitively holding up on the D-pad. The second one is a heavy Viking gnome form. The additional weight greatly decreases the jumping capabilities but is useful for dropping down ledges at a faster speed to avoid crashing into a wall, smashing through trees or even withstanding powerful tornadoes. The third power is undoubtedly the most difficult one to use as the player becomes extremely fast. This is the perfect ability for speed runs to score great times but obstacles are a lot harder to dodge because of the greatly decreased reaction time before it's too late. The extra velocity is also needed for avoiding some hazards or traversing unstable platforms that will quickly collapse. The final power can be used to rewind time and is mainly needed for small puzzles, for example hitting a switch in a dead end to open a path and rewinding time to get out of there before hitting the wall.
The powers don't last for a specific time and are instead only active as long as the corresponding direction on the D-pad is pressed down. The levels throw different obstacles at the player in quick succession, so it's not uncommon having to switch between them extremely quickly. The fast pace, especially in later levels, is quite challenging and dying several times in one level isn't that uncommon. Thankfully, almost instant re-spawns and regular checkpoints keep the frustration at a minimum and the game never stops being fun.
Each level has three rankings; one for socks, one for time and one for lives lost. Depending on the performance, up to three stars for each category are awarded. These stars are used to unlock the last five Nightmare levels. Unlocking them is already no easy task because about 90% of the stars of a world are needed for one level, but actually beating them requires heaps of patience and skill, as the stages are much, much harder and have no checkpoints to rely on.
The gameplay mechanics, while very simple, are really well executed and undoubtedly the strongest aspect of this game. The controls are really responsive and the levels are challenging, yet rarely frustrating thanks to nearly instant re-spawn times and several checkpoints in each stage.
The art style, while quite charming, isn't anything special but the game still looks good for what it is and the 3D effect is great.
The music is quite catchy and pretty good but a lack of variety is really unfortunate and makes the game sound monotonous rather quickly.
The game boasts 45 levels and while that does sound like a lot, they are pretty short and a skilled player can beat the four main worlds in less than two hours. Replaying stages for higher scores and unlocking a few bonus levels does add some value but it's still a rather short adventure.
2 Fast 4 Gnomz is a very solid, challenging and fast-paced 2D platformer with a quirky atmosphere and definitely a good purchase at £4.49. While the game won't last very long, it's a very fun experience all the way through that's worth checking out, particularly for fans of Bit.Trip Runner. QubicGames has another hit to add to its roster, after the excellent AiRace and AiRace: Tunnel on DSiWare.