James Paley


228 games reviewed
74.9 average score
75 median score
40.8% of games recommended
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65 / 100 - LONE RUIN
Jan 21, 2023

If this review feels shorter than usual, that’s for a good reason. A talented roguelite enthusiast can see the end credits in around an hour. The initial weapon selection is refreshing, yes. I also love the color palette used throughout the game. But beyond that, this is a bog standard roguelite. Random assortments of enemies attack with increasing ferocity. The bosses require practice and experimentation to master. Your success is determined by repetition and fortuitous reward drops at the end of every stage. Honestly, the short runtime might be an upside, depending on what you’re looking for. Roguelite players may find Lone Ruin rather disappointing. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a short, arcade-style experience, maybe give this game a shot.

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Jan 17, 2023

While Engage didn’t win me over with its story, the mechanics are a different matter. I’m pleased that level grinding is being sidestepped in such a clever manner, though I still miss it. I loved how intense the battles are, every single time. Even with the Time Crystal, the stakes feel terribly high. Sure, the narrative feels more cliché than I’m used to. I wish it wasn’t a good vs evil fetch quest. But the character bonds still tell a compelling tale all on their own. And though I didn’t love the side content this time around, I’m still happy there’s so much of it available. Overall, Fire Emblem Engage is an excellent entry in the franchise. You won’t want to miss this one.

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Dec 23, 2022

At first glance, this game seems like everything I love in a retro RPG. There’s a unique combat and progression system, detailed pixel art, and a fascinating narrative. But most of my biggest issues are in these same areas. The graphics for this release are ill-suited to modern TVs. Progression is obtuse and murky. And the combat quickly wears out its welcome. If you missed out on this game when it first dropped, you’re in luck! It’s been perfectly preserved. But if you’re going in blind, you may be somewhat disappointed with Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth.

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72 / 100 - High on Life
Dec 21, 2022

High on Life has a particular vibe, one that rewards patient exploration and persistence. The dialogue is a lot to handle, yes. And not every weapon is a winner. The wrong Gatlian can leave you both overwhelmed and unimpressed. But the look, the sound of this game is truly remarkable. This is an alien world that’s crammed full of curious details. The visuals are delicious, the soundtrack is mostly bangers, and the boss fights are well-crafted. Whatever problems I had with the pacing were (mostly) wiped away by that final challenge. It turns out a little spectacle goes a long way. If you can handle Justin Roiland’s unique sense of humor, you’ll want to check out High on Life.

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Dec 8, 2022

Treasures has a lot of good building blocks, but they don’t add up to much. The gameplay loop starts out compelling, but it quickly goes stale. The visual presentation is alright, but the music is terribly flat. And the act of traversal, of actually exploring, left me unsatisfied. Worse, I never felt like I was working towards anything particularly interesting. Money eventually ends up meaningless in most RPGs, and this game does not buck that trend. If you find yourself hopelessly compelled by the prospect of hunting for loot, this might be your game. Otherwise, I can’t really recommend Dragon Quest Treasures.

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80 / 100 - Sonic Frontiers
Nov 7, 2022

As a game, Sonic Frontiers has some definite flaws to be wary of. But as a Sonic game, this is some truly top-shelf stuff.

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85 / 100 - Bayonetta 3
Oct 25, 2022

Whether or not you enjoy this game is dependent on what you’re expecting from it. In the world of hypersexual, campy, insane action games, this sets a new standard. Every successive boss fight raises the bar, the action is always intense, and it oozes charm. There’s more move variety, the characters are beautiful, and the tone is impossibly over the top. If you’ve bounced off of Bayonetta games before, I can’t promise this time will be different. The pacing and core gameplay loop remain largely intact. But for fans of the franchise, Bayonetta 3 is easily as good as it gets. If you loved the first two games, you’ve got to check out this one.

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Oct 21, 2022

Rather than just coast off the ingenuity of the first game, Sparks of Hope reaches beyond its predecessor. The Sparks give an extra layer of agency and choice to the player, while handing those same deadly tools to your enemies. The battles are fast-paced, clever, and compelling. So much so that the sections outside of battle feel like an exhausting slog by comparison. The dialogue is at turns both witty and insufferable, while the actual plot exists only to justify the action. Don’t let my bizarre set of blinders deter you, though. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is an excellent follow-up to the remarkable original game.

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70 / 100 - LEGO Bricktales
Oct 11, 2022

Bricktales is perfect – for the right audience. The trouble is, I’m not sure who that audience is. The visuals and the writing feel very all-ages. But the puzzle design requires a high degree of patience and perseverance. I’m neither a parent nor a child, however. For all I know, kids love spending ages making the perfect bird perch. That’s where the alchemy happens, you see. That’s the crucible. If you love building without blueprints, if you’ve got a head for design, you’re in luck. LEGO Bricktales will be an incredible time from start to finish. But otherwise? The breathtaking visuals and clever design won’t be enough to hold your attention.

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Oct 3, 2022

Despite the insidious roguelike trappings, this is a Shovel Knight title to its core. Dig is a nasty slog with no shortcuts to slump against. Spend your money as you might, only your skills can get you further. Like the original games, you can only throw yourself into the meat grinder until your muscle memory spits you out the other side. Although it looks and sounds great, I found myself tangled in the roguelike mechanics. If you’re incompatible with that genre, you might have to pass on this one. But Shovel Knight Dig hides a pretty decent game under all those frustrating outer layers.

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Sep 30, 2022

Sim games approach their subjects with a mix of reverence and intense focus. Unlike more arcade-style skateboarding games, Session is a pure, unfiltered experience. If you want to recreate the slow, careful process of learning how to skate, this is your game. But be warned! The mix of intense difficulty and self-directed gameplay isn’t for everyone. Anything less than a pure, powerful love for skateboarding will leave you feeling dissatisfied with this game. But if you’re looking for a pure challenge, and don’t mind a few bugs, you’re in luck. Session: Skate Sim is exactly what you’ve been waiting for.

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This game is a great time, with a couple minor caveats. If you don’t mind the random, roguelike nature of the combat, then you’ll love it. If you’re playing on PC, you’ll love it even more. The writing is snappy, the action is fast-paced, and the character designs are terrific. I had a hard time grappling with the roguelike elements, however. There’s certain patience this sort of system demands of you, and I don’t have enough of it. On the other hand, if running experiments on hapless humans in dank dungeons appeals to you, take heart! Despot’s Game will be right up your alley.

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90 / 100 - Splatoon 3
Sep 16, 2022

Taken as a whole, Splatoon 3 is an engaging, exciting experience. You can cycle between weapon load-outs, game modes, and gear to keep things fresh. The solo campaign is always there if you ever get truly stuck, though it does nothing for your overall progression. The Anarchy Battles are a massive boost, with enough game types to keep you hooked for ages. The battles themselves are slick and speedy, with a host of potential strategies to help you eke out a win. I’d love more customization, and I’ve no patience for motion controls, but these are minor troubles. While it doesn’t re-invent the wheel, Splatoon 3 is a lot more of an already great idea.

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70 / 100 - Splatoon 3
Sep 7, 2022

The Alterna campaign is only a slice of the Splatoon 3 pie. As such, my final score comes with some caveats. Though the mechanical elements are rock solid, the look and feel of the game is still off. At least for me, this campaign content feels subdued and a little lonely. Taken as part of the complete experience, the single-player content is something of a safe house. A quiet space where you can sharpen your skills and experiment with new weapons. Even so, the solo campaign for Splatoon 3 had me longing for the chaos of the online arena.

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I’m not sure how I feel about this collection. I didn’t enjoy most of the games I played. And yet, this release does an admirable job gathering up so much Turtles history and memorabilia. You’ve got the games, the box art, the concept sketches, the music, and the TV stills. You have a clear snapshot of the Turtles hype train running at full speed. The effect is so complete this collection feels like a curated museum exhibit. On the other hand, the games are mostly bad. The action is repetitive, the difficulty balance is busted, and the stage design is mostly an afterthought. If you’re looking for a thoughtful essay on Ninja Turtles history, then look no further. If you want a bunch of fun games, The Cowabunga Collection is not for you.

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80 / 100 - Cult of the Lamb
Aug 10, 2022

If you want a roguelite with a sinister twist, you’re in luck. Cult of The Lamb is just the game you’re looking for.

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Jul 26, 2022

This review might seem short, especially for such a gigantic game. There’s just so much I can’t disclose. Bits of the combat and the mechanics of course, but mainly the story. It’s just much better if you experience these things yourself. I will say that this story manages to be both relatable and enormous. You want – almost desperately – to see how this thing shakes out. I wish the combat wasn’t so sluggish at times. It almost obstructs the narrative, having to wade through these disconnected battles. But the quest system is engaging, and the battles do eventually make sense. The writing is great, and the voice acting is getting better with every game. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a gigantic, epic adventure. It’s also bloated, hyperactive, and easily distracted. It’s beautiful but flat, it’s weird yet familiar. If you’re looking for a massive new JRPG, the latest Xenoblade game is here for you.

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72 / 100 - Live A Live
Jul 21, 2022

Although these are fairly bite-sized adventures, each one packs a remarkable punch. Every chapter works to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack, and it shows. While I can’t recommend each story with equal vigor, I am impressed with the total package. Sure, I would prefer fewer chances to soft-lock yourself. I’d also love to leave behind some of the level grinding. But the core gameplay loop is still fun. Between the wild stories, the engaging combat, and the incredible voice acting, Live A Live feels like much more than the sum of its parts. If you’re any kind of fan of classic JRPGs, you owe it to yourself to check out this game.

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Jun 22, 2022

Three Hopes combines the epic narrative scale of Fire Emblem with the massive fights of a Warriors game. The end result feels properly grand, at least during those colossal end-of-chapter battles. You can still get pretty lost in the side quest sauce, but that’s fine. It’s those diversions that make your characters matter, at least when they’re off the field. I’d love a little more combat complexity, but I get why it’s absent. Not everyone makes it home, after all. If you’ve been missing this franchise since Three Houses, take heart! Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes is a gigantic adventure jam-packed with everything you love about the series. If you can open your heart to the Warriors gameplay, you’ll find a terrific entry in the FE series awaits you.

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70 / 100 - Sonic Origins
Jun 21, 2022

Sega is straight-up hooked on compilations. Their old catalogue has come out on everything from the PS2 to the Mini Genesis. You almost certainly own half the games in this collection several times over. On the other hand, Sonic 3 and Sonic CD are two terrific games that deserve your attention. Plus, Sega has done an admirable job in filling this collection with bonus content. And we can’t overlook the accessibility win that is Anniversary Mode. While there are a lot of old Sonic games that deserve this treatment more, Sonic Origins has earned a place of sorts. If you’re looking for a glittery shrine to Sonic’s 2D era, this collection has got you covered.

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