Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania Review
Whenever I’m asked what my favorite roguelike is, my answer is confidently and unashamedly Dead Cells. That’s been true over five years of great content updates, and it’s even more true with the arrival of its latest paid DLC, Return to Castlevania. This substantial expansion masterfully reworks the base game and Konami’s classic action-platformer series—one of Dead Cells’ biggest inspirations—into something that feels wonderful and wholehearted. Its more traditional story structure is less mysterious than the connect-the-dots style we’ve seen in the past, and it’s immediately clear how much work has gone into bringing Castlevania’s iconic characters, weapons, music, and locations into the world of Dead Cells. . . It puts the castle itself center stage and makes it feel alive, and this homage really helps sell the fantasy of the crossover. Return to Castlevania is a masterful blend that brings together the best parts of both games, with the same challenging and engaging action of Dead Cells that can leave you in bloody tears of frustration or joy by the end.
While the story hasn’t traditionally been the reason you’d play Dead Cells in the first place, Return to Castlevania does a fun job of establishing why you’re satisfyingly making your way to Dracula’s infamous throne room this time instead of just try to escape from your island prison like in the old runs. By the end of her story, I would not only engage the Count in an epic final battle, but I had also faced Medusa and even Death himself in fierce confrontations. It almost felt like a new, streamlined version of a classic Castlevania adventure, all while still staying true to the Dead Cells name.
What did we say about dead cells?
Dead Cells is rewarding in its flexibility in a way few games are. Each easily digestible run through its beautifully detailed and variable levels evokes a sense of discovery and familiarity. It pushes you to push the limits of your ability and crushes you mercilessly when you feel too comfortable. There are layers of strategy and tactics buried not only in the immediate choices you make, but in the grander metalwork that builds each run. Dead Cells is a triumphant amalgamation of instinct, forethought, fun and failure. – Brandin Tyrrel August 10, 2018
Read our full Dead Cells review.
The game’s excellent formula of fast-paced sword-swiping, ground-pounding, and door-slamming gameplay against a colorful array of monsters hasn’t fundamentally changed, but Return to Castlevania introduces more weapons, enemies, bosses, and outfits than any paid expansion. in front of him. Discovering all the new surprises continues to keep it more than fresh even after the 20 hours I’ve sunk into it so far. As you attack a spectacular castle floating in a sea of blood red, the original Dead Cells weapons, blueprints and outfits you’ve found from each path can be used across the board here.
That’s absolutely for the best, because you’re able to mix and match between those and 14 vampire hunter-flavored weapons to come up with creative new builds. This could be pairing the flint with the whip to take down enemies up close and personal, or the throwing ax with lightning to focus on attacking from afar. There are also Castlevania classics like the holy water and the cross, but my favorite of the new additions has to be the scythe of death, a double-edged weapon that converts its victims into my spectral army, who in turn sink into direction of enemies and explode while I just smile and watch. It’s this level of creativity that makes punishing new enemies like skeletons and wolves with my whip sword or a cute but ferocious magical cat all the more fun. There are a handful of refreshing enemies from the Castlevania series to take on, further selling the idea that I’ve been transported into this fantasy world.
The final fight is easily the most challenging and unique boss yet.
Dracula’s Castle is made up of two distinct locations – the grounds outside the castle and its interior – and inside there’s a lot more than you might expect based on past Dead Cells updates, including some great renditions of iconic songs like Vampire Killer . I was surprised to discover that the outskirts of the castle are designed as a sort of proving ground, satisfactorily testing whether or not you are worthy of entering Dracula’s domain by making you climb several floors before reaching his threshold, cleverly demonstrating just how big a threat the iconic vampire is. This idea only expands upon entering his castle.
No matter how far you’re looking from the outside, Dracula’s castle looks massive – and once you’re inside it’s just as grand. It’s filled to the brim with ornate decorations and detailed sculpting work that is beautifully complimented by Dead Cells’ gorgeous pixel art style. The atmosphere of the Gothic structure is only enhanced by the red mist that pours from every window you pass. The background layers of the castle impressively convey how large the castle is meant to be as you go through Dead Cells procedurally generated schemes that change the map with each visit. Throughout, the villain himself sometimes appears to slow you down by throwing fireballs, unleashing swarms of bats, and yes, even turning the castle upside down. And while I don’t want to spoil anything, the final showdown is easily the most challenging and unique boss Dead Cells has seen yet.
Dead Cells: Back to Castlevania DLC screenshots
You’ll find plenty of charming nods and surprises from the old-school Castlevania games to interact with while exploring these new areas, too. You may come across a room that holds save dice from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which provides a little extra flavor instead of letting you save your game. Inclusions like this are great throwbacks for people who are already big fans of the series, but they’re also a fantastic source of motivation to encourage those who’ve never played Castlevania to come back and try it for the first time (and there are likely to start recognizing even more references along the way).
Once you find Richter Belmont in the castle, you’ll be able to play the short but brilliant Richter mode after your next run, a special and discreet level that puts him in the spotlight. While most of Return to Castlevania generally plays like Dead Cells in a beloved Castlevania skin, Richter Mode dials down the combat a bit to be much more like the methodical and tactile nature of a Castlevania game. Richter is only equipped with one weapon and one tool to use instead of the usual two, plus your tool can only be used by consuming a heart coin like many of the games from his series. Because he has far less health and less resources to work with than a standard Dead Cell character, I had to focus on taking my time and getting away from enemies instead of diving in and tearing up his attacks. my Playing carefully, however, leads to powerful rewards, and I eventually found myself literally raining holy water on enemies, which lived up to the legendary reputation of the Belmont Clan. Dead Cells is all about learning how to overcome challenges, so Richter Mode is a fantastically innovative way to bring something new to the table while putting Castlevania in the spotlight. After beating it, I was left more than convinced that developers Motion Twin and Evil Empire could make an incredible traditional 2D Castlevania if Konami would let them.
Even after thinking I had done everything, I was discovering new things.
The amount of time it takes to reach and defeat Dracula will depend on whether you’re a new or returning player, but either way you’ll be able to start the adventure a few runs after starting a new course, giving you allowed to enter the action quickly. Even after I thought I had done everything there was to do in Return to Castlevania, I often found myself discovering new things. During one run I found a merchant in Dracula’s castle, only for the vampire himself to appear and wipe them out of existence. The big bad paid me to help him find the dealer, which left me shocked, but I had to laugh out loud because of how clever and unexpected it all was.
There are 20 different outfits to unlock based on notable Castlevania figures like Simon Belmont and Alucard, to name a few. In a fantastic little touch, arriving at Dracula’s throne room dressed as someone from Castlevania even changes the pre-battle conversation, giving you a little taste of the background for each character. That was enough to entice me to do it for every single one I’ve found, meaning I’m spending upwards of 40 minutes each time just to watch what’s normally only 15 seconds of dialogue. These little details are another example of how Dead Cells slyly encourages you to give it “one more run” before calling it quits for the night.
While all of this may seem like Return to Castlevania relies too much on nostalgia to be enjoyable, one of the things this DLC does so masterfully as a crossover is that it still rewards you even if you’re not familiar enough with the series to continued. all references. As someone who isn’t a Castlevania diehard but has played a few over time, not only did I never feel left out, but I actually felt encouraged to go and play more of the series, simply because how well it is integrated into a game that I love so much. To me, that dopamine effect is the highest compliment a crossover can achieve, and that makes it great.
And although many games today undoubtedly owe so much to Castlevania, years of incredible updates and improvements mean that Dead Cells has earned the right to sit proudly on a throne alongside its inspiration. Return to Castelvania is more than doing Castlevania right, it also cements Dead Cells as a timeless classic in its own right. This makes this crossover feel like more than a loving tribute or a well-deserved passing of the torch alone. Not only has Dead Cells exceeded expectations for Castlevania action right, but it’s also elevated itself to greater heights with the best design, bosses, art, and level creativity we’ve seen yet.