Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania DLC Review – A Packaged Commendation

    Title: Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania
    Developer: Evil Empire, Motion Twin
    Release Date: March 6, 2023
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Motion Twin
    Genre: Rougelike, 2D Action

Dead Cells is a roguelike I’ve meant to get into for quite a while. Despite its genre being one of my favorites, it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve sat down and really spent time with it. And, just as luck would have it, soon after I began playing, Motion Twin and Evil Empire announced a shocking yet fitting DLC crossover; Return to Castlevania. While Dead Cells has interacted with several other games before, this particular involvement is on another scale entirely.

Aside from the re-released classics, Castlevania has remained largely dormant for many years, so seeing a revival through Dead Cells is significant for potential crossover fans. As for how it all panned out, this is a meticulously written love letter with all the little hearts and decor for any who play to be endeared by.

Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania has players meet Richter Belmont in the first area, the Prison’s Quarters, where he informs the player and grants them access to the new Castlevania-themed locales. Other characters, notably Dracula and Alucard, as well as Maria Renard, albeit to a far lesser, cameo-like extent, are present throughout the new biomes, too. Of course, given the game’s nature, there isn’t much of a narrative or interaction, but what is here strikes a nice balance of both series. The real brilliance of this DLC arises from the new areas, music, and items.

The Castle Outskirts will be the players’ first biome to traverse, and it houses a simple yet standout elevator mechanic where the primary goal is to find switches and such to move further upward. A few light puzzles are provided, and there’s a specific early point where new players will need to be cognizant of the environment. New Castlevania enemies are around as well, such as the Mermen and Bone Throwers. While they’re nothing to write home about mechanically, they do significantly enhance the ambiance.

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The second area, Dracula’s Castle, is expectedly ominous with a more traditional sense of progression, though there was one instance where it seemed like the Ram Rune or Spider Rune were required. Still, I could have simply overlooked a pathway, as this scenario only presented itself once. UPDATE: This was fixed in a patch and is no longer required to progress. Regardless, the enemies here are more commonly identifiable with Castlevania, with the likes of Haunted Armors and Vampire Bats roaming the premises.

Many new weapons are obtainable via blueprints and other methods, including Maria’s Cat, the Cross, Holy Water, and even Death’s Scythe. Although my personal favorite is probably the Snake Sword since it has two switchable modes prioritizing either close or ranged reach. Granted, the latter isn’t exceptionally distant, but the on-the-fly changeability can be quite valuable in certain contexts. Additionally, plenty of outfits can be acquired by exchanging Cells, and there are likely more than one would initially expect, resulting in over half a dozen.

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After progressing past the Castle Outskirts and Castle proper for the first time, you’ll face the first boss of the DLC, causing you to leave the DLC areas for the rest of the run. Then, on your next run, you’ll have to defeat the Time Keeper within the Clock biome, enabling greater difficulty access to a variation of Dracula’s Castle. Soon after, you’ll face a couple more bosses, concluding the primary DLC journey. However, there is some additional content Castlevania fans will likely enjoy. Richter Belmont himself is playable with an altered moveset that gradually improves as he progresses throughout the map. Obviously, he isn’t anywhere near as intricate as The Beheaded, but he grants the DLC an undeniable certificate of even grander authenticity.

While its first go-around is immensely brief, the Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania content is pretty enjoyable, with a distinct presentation, outstanding musical arrangements, cool skins, and unique weapons strongly representing this cherished IP with the respect it deserves. The boss battles’ difficulty is collectively underwhelming, yet their well-depicted telegraphs and stellar animation mitigated that point I felt in retrospect.

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It’s worth emphasizing that this DLC is, at its core, meant for those who enjoy Dead Cells rather than strictly Castlevania fans. Playable Richter aside, the rest of this content is more Dead Cells greatness. Still, the highlights of the Castlevania franchise have been encapsulated and reimagined succinctly, transparently displaying the Dead Cells’ developers’ love for the classics that inspired them.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.