Few games have enjoyed post-launch support as robust and high-quality as Dead Cells has received for the past six(!) years. Motion Twin has produced wave after wave of updates, some free and some paid, which have packed the already awesome base game with a dizzying amount of new biomes, weapons, cosmetics, and more. And all of it feels like it’s been leading up to the new Return to Castlevania DLC. Though this new update from partner developer Evil Empire — a studio made up of "ex-Motion Twin team members and new recruits" — technically only adds a few hours of additional content to the base Dead Cells experience, every inch of it is clearly crafted with love and care for Konami's spooky, vampire-slaying franchise.
You can interact with the new content right off the bat by simply talking to Richter Belmont in the Prisoner’s Quarters, and following the stairs to a new door that will take you to the outskirts of Dracula’s castle. Obviously, the goal here is to ascend the castle and defeat the freshly resurrected King of the Night himself, aided by allies like Maria Renard and Alucard. Still, Dracula has brought some friends, too, and you’ll have to battle through the likes of Medusa and Death itself to get your shot at taking on the ageless villain.
Though it only takes a couple of hours (depending on the difficulty level and your skill) to make the ascent and send ol’ Drac back to sleep for another hundred years, there’s a decent amount of content here to unlock and take with you into the rest of the game. While slicing and whipping your way through the likes of Werewolves and Armor Knights, enemies will occasionally drop blueprints—not unlike the two Sorrow games—that you can later invest cells into to grant yourself access to some useful weapons and skills. Staple sub-weapons like the Holy Water and Throwing Axe are of course up for grabs, along with interesting new weapons like Death’s Scythe or Medusa’s Head. Then, of course, there are the cosmetic armors, which let you dress up as characters such as Simon or Alucard.
Perhaps the biggest delight of Return to Castlevania is that the developers were keen to pack this DLC with as many references and easter eggs as possible. Walk into the passage between biomes, and you’ll find that the Collector has been replaced by Shanoa, the star of Order of Ecclesia. Enter into a new biome and you'll see its name briefly flash up on a title card in the same way that levels did in Rondo of Blood. Talk to Maria about her cat, and she’ll tell you that its name is Byakko, but it depends on who you ask, referring to its many appearances throughout the series. It feels like the meat of the content in this DLC is inspired by Symphony of the Night (duh) and Rondo of Blood, but there are still plenty of references to the broader Castlevania series everywhere.
In terms of presentation, Return to Castlevania does a great job of adapting iconic Castlevania visuals in a way that tracks with the Dead Cells universe, feeling like a fitting fusion of the two. Whether you’re gazing up at the weird towers of the castle silhouetted against a massive blue moon or staring down Death’s grinning visage as he pulls out his huge scythe, there’s a palpable sense that the environments and enemies here are truly distinct from the things you encounter in the rest of the game. Meanwhile, stepping into a biome to hear a new rendition of 'Vampire Killer' or 'Bloody Tears' is magical, and it’s even better when you realize that changing the music to 8-bit brings back the original tracks in all their chiptune glory.
The only drawback of this DLC is that it’s, well… just DLC. As only a relatively small part of a much larger game, the Castlevania content is memorable and high-quality, but there’s really not that much of it to see. This makes sense, of course, any more content would risk turning Dead Cells into a weird backdoor reboot of the Castlevania series, but we couldn’t help but wish that there was more to see after it’s been so long since the last time we got to wield the whip. Between the lovingly crafted biomes, bosses, and the various unlockables carry forward into the main game, this DLC is absolutely worth the ten dollars it costs to unlock, but it feels like ten dollars is the maximum this could cost without feeling overpriced.
It's also worth mentioning that aside from a cute section where you get to play as Richter, this DLC plays exactly the way that you would expect Dead Cells to play. That same razor-sharp, fast-paced combat is present and correct, the environments of Dracula’s iconic castle are randomly generated each run, the expansive, explorative elements — the ones that meld with Metroid to make up everyone's favourite genre term — are only present to the slightest degree, and you’re still gonna die a lot. This may seem obvious, but we just want to make it clear that this expansion feels like Dead Cells with a Castlevania skin, not Castlevania with a Dead Cells skin.
This distinction is important, as any Castlevania fans who bounced off Dead Cells for one reason or another may be disappointed to learn that what soured their interest in the base game is still present here, too.
If you liked Dead Cells, it’s a no-brainer that you must get the Return to Castlevania DLC as soon as possible. It may be brief, but this is a brilliantly intense and nostalgic trip to a spookier world that fits in well with the broader offering of content in the base game. This feels like it’s primarily made for Dead Cells fans who also happen to like Castlevania — it's unlikely to convert Castlevania aficionados who don’t get on with Motion Twin's roguelite. At any rate, we loved it and it's great to see Castlevania back in video games again. Let's hope that Konami takes notice and opts to give us a full revival soon.
Agree with that 9/10, strong 9/10. Absolutely wonderful expansion. Every Dead Cells and/or Castlevania fan needs this right away. Pound for pound, the best thing in gaming that has been released this year so far perhaps.
I’ve really tried to like this game but I just can’t do the same thing over and over again
I dabbled in the Castlevania DLC for a few hours once I could pull myself away from Octopath Traveler 2, and it’s a fantastic mesh of Dead Cells rougelike gameplay and the 2D action platforming of Castlevania. It’s such a perfect pairing, and I’m surprised it took so long to consider the idea. I wonder if they will incorporate any other games into their product. I love reading the little book in the beginning that talks about Blasphemous, Hollow Knight, and all of those other games. It’s a hilarious nod.
The review also failed to mention that you can change the soundtrack of Dead Cells to a Castlevania soundtrack for every single stage in the game.
I've spent more hours in dead cells than I thought I could in the beginning... and seems there's a reason to spend even more hours. No regrets.
Somehow Dead Cells wasn’t on my radar until I heard about this expansion in the direct. I think I need to check this game out, though. Looks pretty awesome.
I loved this so much that I double dipped on both Switch and Playstation versions. This is easily the best Dead Cells DLC yet, and maybe the last? Either way, I’ve logged over 250 hours in this game already and I’ll no doubt add at least a hundred more. Fantastic content, incredible game.
Pain/10 can’t wait to play and suffer
I actually couldn't get into this game before despite acknowledging it's technically ace-ness. However with this excellent Castlevania expansion......!
Cheers for the review.
Honestly, I just want a real Castlevania game, not a crossover.
Still mindblowing this is happening... Dead Cells always felt like a Castlevania game to me. Can not describe why, but my mind always categorized it as the Castlevania-Rouglike. And now it actually has Castlevania content. This is so awesome. I really really love this game and I think I will love it even more with content from my favorite franchise.
One day I hope they stop with the extra content and release a physical copy with everything on the cart and discs (for Xbox and PS). What they have done since the retail copy came out makes a mockery of the content on there lol.
I want to like this, but I just cant get into roguelikes. There's jsut something about them I don't like.
Bundle it on a game cart with all other DLC like Giga Mega Ultra Ultimate Edition or something like that and I will buy it instantly!
As someone who got into Dead Cells willing to play something that slightly remembered Castlevania at least, this DLC is pure joy. Dead Cells really is the gift that keeps on giving
If I wasn’t tight on money I’d get this asap lol. I will get the dlc one day as soon as possible though in the future.
I saw Richter on the first attempt, but after I died once he never showed up again. What am I doing wrong?
@Dunan I had no idea you could do this! Thanks!
I've been playing it on another platform, and all I can say is that the Devs continuously put their hearts into this game. This DLC is simply fantastic and is a love letter to everybody that likes MetroidVania and roguelike games. Everyone should definitely try it out.
I'm still trying to get to Dracula because my stupid a** decided - and is now stubborn about - clearing it at the highest difficulty I unlocked so far (5 boss cells, altho I legit don't know if there's even more?) is a good idea but even with my failed attempts I'm having way too much fun with the new areas.
The items are generally kind of...meh from what I've gotten and seen so far, tbh, but the areas are the absolute best Dead Cells has done, imo.
I’ve bought all the dlc’s and told myself they’d pull me back into the game. But this one has done the trick. I’ve got a lot of new content to enjoy since the 50 hours I put into this back when it first released.
@Thomystic if you've met Richter in the first area then you can reach the Castle outskirts (first level of the DLC) any time by finding the long stairway down to the door.
Too bad it's attached to a game I have very little interest in.
I need to get back into Dead Cells. Such an excellent gaming loop. I love it.
Haven’t finished 5BC yet, but love the game, and love Castlevania! This was a def pre-order for me.
I remember after beating Dead Cells the first time thinking “I wish there were a new Castlevania game similar to this.” So I’m excited to play this!
I do hope the next Castlevania game is smoother and faster like DC, but not quite as quick and not rogue. I think Sorrow style with all sorts of gear, spells, and such, at about 75% DC speed. That could be badass. Chasm also gave the Metroidvania category an awesome addition, Diablo 2-esque loot system. Think if you incorporate that into the next CV it would be awesome, then lock set special gear behind bosses alongside traversal abilities, and give the special gear the ability to scale alongside player / be upgraded at a shop to scale and have unique bonuses like Legendaries in DC/D2….
@Waluigi451 Dude! Get in there. There is everything to like. Some of it may seem difficult in the first few hours though it is a very fair game.
@Dom_31 I'm at 5BC too, Still cannot take out the final challenge. Keep on keeping on!
So, I guess there will be another physical version of Dead Cells. There hasn't been one in a while.
@Wheatly I'm reading that you have to have beaten the game first before he shows up. I definitely haven't, so I suppose it's a fluke that he showed up that one time.
The whole Dead Cells game with dlc is now a sold gold 10/10. With the Assist Mode and the Castlevania dlc the game now ranks as among the Greatest Games Of All Time. Seriously it does.
Its given me one of the best single player experiences of my life. It's amazing. And Motion Twin and Evil Empire its creators are amazing companies that totally deserve having interview features done with their really cool and interesting staff. Please @mitchvogel please!
I've only ever played the Dead Cells demo, and I really enjoyed it. I've been waiting for a substantial discount since then to buy the game. Now I'll wait for a package with this DLC as the Castlevania games are among my favourites.
@Thomystic no you don't. You have to have done 3 runs. Then a bunch of red bats appears and you can start the dlc
I actually just got around to playing this game. haha is there an order I should play all the DLC in? or can I just jump into this DLC and it wont ruin anything?
I have a Switch and PS5 and bought this on PS5. Agree with the 9/10. This is the most polished, high quality piece of DLC I've played on any console.
@Beefcakeyamato Yeah, all the DLC adds to the base experience. Some update contents are focused on the early game and some are only encountered later, but basically everything is just there to expand your options and give you greater choice each run. The Castlevania stuff has two entry points, one in the first biome and another one about halfway through a run.
@a_brave_new_geek @Dom_31 you guys are stronger than me, I can't even get through the castle on BC1. Still absolutely love the game though!
@SwitchVogel ah thanks for the response, appreciate it. 🙌
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