A miserable little pile of cells
I’m not the biggest lover of roguelikes. I maybe avoid them a little less than I used to but listing that little influence in the bullet points still isn’t a way to sell a game to me. However, I do love Castlevania. Throwing that full name (Metroidvania doesn’t count) into your press release is a better way to get me salivating. So, yes, the Return to Castlevania DLC was enough to get me to fully pick up Dead Cells.
What’s amusing is that I last played Dead Cells around the time I was reviewing GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon, which was a revival of a forsaken Konami franchise that largely took influence from Dead Cells. So both times I’ve played Dead Cells have been due to a Konami franchise. Don’t look at me like that. I found it funny.
Dead Cells is a roguelike that took a lot of influence from Castlevania, so having it get officially sanctioned Castlevania DLC is a great fit. As it turns out, it’s not only a great addition because of the addition of themed levels, but because the unlocks you get from tackling them enhance the Castlevania flavors of the base game.
Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania(PC, Switch, Xbox One, PS4, iOS, Android)
Developer: Motion Twin
Publisher: Motion Twin
Released: March 6, 2023
You can begin the Return to Castlevania DLC rather easily. As long as you have the flasks hanging outside the opening room, you can find Alucard in the Prisoner’s Quarters. If you’re starting fresh, this just means you’ll need a few (failed) runs before he appears. Afterward, you start off in the Castle Outskirts. There are only two full biomes available along with two boss rooms. However, you have to go through Dracula’s Castle at least twice, once via entering through the Prisoner’s Quarters to defeat death and again through the Clocktower.
It’s a bit more complicated than it needs to be, but not so cryptic that it’s impossible to figure out. The rules were initially unclear to me, so I wasted a run or two trying to get to Drac. For that matter, if you fail at Drac, it’s a long walk getting back to him, which I suppose is just the nature of a roguelike. If you’ve played Dead Cells, you probably know the kind of time commitment you’re in for. Runs can exceed a half hour, and while that’s not huge for a full game, when a miscalculation can send you back, that can be punishing.
It’s progression by degrees. Sure, you fail, but spending cells make subsequent runs easier. You also build up your skills and strategies. You figure out what your weapon preferences are, and that moves success within your reach.
The two included biomes are pretty lean meat. It definitely fits the price, and I think the biggest issue with it is that the correct amount of Castlevania for me is endless Castlevania.
Despite there being only two boss rooms, there are actually three bosses. There’s Dracula, of course, but there’s also Death and Medusa. The last battle with Dracula is appropriately brutal, with a harsh difficulty spike even for the well-prepared.
Where I think the greatest value lies in Return to Castlevania is in the unlockables you can use in the main game. I was somewhat concerned that the DLC would exist as its own side game, but thankfully, it’s fully integrated. You can unlock classic Castlevania armaments like the holy water and Maria’s cat Byakko. These are then available for playing the vanilla content. It’s maybe not much, but it helps the whole game feel a bit more like you’re playing Castlevania.
Additionally, there are unlockable skins for the Prisoner. One of the first I unlocked was Maria, which is pretty exciting. There’s also Richter, Simon, and Trevor, as well as a few unexpected side characters. It makes it very easy to complete the illusion.
The remixed music is also pretty great. The cover of Vampire Killer is probably the best adaptation, and I’m somewhat disappointed at the approach to Divine Bloodlines. However, in general, I really want this soundtrack.
If you want to play Return to Castlevania, you’re going to need to be ready to play Dead Cells. There’s no way around it. Thankfully, Dead Cells is an absolute gravy boat, and you should play it.
What makes Return to Castlevania better is that it essentially allows you to turn Dead Cells into a Castlevania roguelike, and a damned good one. The DLC serves as a fantastic love letter to one of the series that helped inspire Dead Cells, and that love absolutely comes across. I honestly wish that more games would let me just turn them into a Castlevania spin-off. What’s the matter, Mario? Think you’re better than Castlevania? Well, you’re not, so put on this leather cuirass and carry this whip. Wait, that sounded weird.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]