PC Gaming Reviews

Dead Cells Return To Castlevania Review - Cell-phony Of The Night

Author Rating
Dead Cells: Return To Castlevania Review - Microsoft PC

Dead Cells: Return To Castlevania

Developer: Motion Twin
Publisher: Motion Twin
Release Date: March 6, 2023
Available as: Digital

It has been almost two weeks since I was given a Dead Cells review copy, which not only included all of the previous DLCs but also the new Return to Castlevania DLC as well. A huge special shout-out to Motion Twin for allowing me the opportunity to cover their insane roguelike epic. As of this review, I have clocked in at 22 hours. Have I completed a single run yet? Nope. Have I reached the end of a run? Countless times. Did I rage every time I was close to victory only to die by a regular enemy I’ve killed hundreds of per run? Absolutely. 

Fortunately, the biggest praise I can give Dead Cells, which segues into the Return to Castlevania DLC content, is that none of the game’s numerous DLCs is gatekept by a player’s ability. I’d never played Dead Cells at all prior to covering this game and I was still able to access the DLC-exclusive biomes whether it was The Queen and the Sea, Fatal Falls, or The Bad Seed DLCs. After “completing” a run of the Return to Castlevania DLC, the biomes there are integrated with the main “runs” for plot purposes.

After several failed runs, the player will begin to realize which path leads to wherever the first destination the player wishes to go. At first, there’s only the Promenade Of The Condemned, but after unlocking the green vine rune, the player can access the Toxic Caves and the teleportation rune unlocks the Dilapidated Arboretum. With the new Return To Castlevania DLC, the Castle Outskirts can be accessed via a unique set of stairs after talking to Richter Belmont for the first time.

Shanoa from Castlevania: Order Of Ecclesia replaces The Collector during the Castlevania levels.

The Passage in-between levels fit the Castlevania aesthetic, with some NPCs being replaced. Instead of The Collector, players will meet Shanoa, the protagonist from Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. Afterward, the player enters the Castle Outskirts, set to a rocking remix of the famous Castlevania theme, “Vampire Killer.” Upon arriving, the protagonist is quickly stopped by a raised drawbridge. Anyone familiar with the Belmont and friends’ adventures will know that bridges are often obstacles meant to be overcome. This leads to an underwater section in order to find the switch to lower the gate.

When I covered Dead Cells a few days ago, I was playing it in the mind state of 2018, with the game receiving several large-scale DLCs since. Return to Castlevania was released five years after Dead Cells release and comparing the game’s base content to this one, it’s clear to see how much the developers improved on the Biome design.

Each screen in this Biome was met with familiar Castlevania scenes in mind. The glass mirror room with the delicate platforming and annoying enemies remains one such room, remade in Dead Cells. The enemies in the DLC behave almost as they would in Castlevania—Skeletons still throw their bones in an arc, the knights have circular blades, and the bats... They are definitely “batty” and annoying. Some of the enemies are reskinned of existing ones, such as the saber-wielding Knight Armors being similar to the enemies fought in High Peak Castle.

No, I am not from a family of vampire hunters, I'm sorry Alucard.

Alucard makes an appearance, not feeling too great about having his sleep broken, but relieved that it’s not another Belmont. In the room next to his, the player will find Alucard’s Shield, which I found to be one of the most useful shields in the game. Most shields can only block and parry, but the shield is large enough that it can be used as a melee weapon. Parrying is a useful tool in Dead Cells anyway, so adding a melee attack to it makes it even greater.

Other items including holy water and other vampire-killing staples make their appearance. I’ve reached the interior of Dracula’s Castle and it certainly felt like a love letter to Castlevania. It also serves its purpose of showing just how different the two games are from each other. While the castle exists in its full glory, each section of it is played out in separate Biomes rather than a single smooth transition. It serves as a unique twist to a classic series overall. As with any item found in the base game and previous DLC, any blueprints or progress made will carry over to other non-Castlevania levels. In the settings menu, the player can even adjust the food they pick up to match that from the series.

The ghost dancers also make their appearance, but only as a cutscene and not an enemy.

Initially, there are only two biomes—the Castle Outskirts and Dracula’s Castle, both of which aren’t the most difficult Biomes and instead are equal to other “biome” structures. Any given Dead Cells run will consist of any variant of this flowchart.

  • First Biome (Prison)
  • Second Biome (Castle Outskirts)
  • Third Biome (Dracula's Castle)
  • First Boss (Death End of Castlevania DLC's first half)
  • Fourth Biome
  • Fifth Biome
  • Second Boss
  • Sixth Biome ("Awakened" Dracula's Castle Only accessible after defeating Death in a previous run)
  • Third Boss (Dracula)

Historically, the “sixth biome” and the “third bosses” are the ‘final stage” and ‘final bosses’ respectively. The Castle Outskirts and Dracula’s Castle are equivalent to the “Second” and “Third” biomes, with the “First boss” being “Death.” As the player reaches the “Master’s Keep” to confront Dracula, his right-hand man Death has other plans as he drags the player to the Defiled Necropolis. The fight itself wasn’t difficult although it bears to mention that his scythe will do a high amount of damage should the player not be on the move.

Not even Death is a match for someone who has died a hundred times in Dead Cells.

This is the beauty of Dead Cells, however. As much destruction the player causes on a regular enemy, the same can be done to a boss in any run. I was lucky enough to come across Alucard’s Shield with the effect that I’d gain Alucard’s Sword as a 2-for-1 combo. Both items are two of the best items in Dead Cells as the Shield can be used to attack enemies. Some shields push the player forward while others can only be used to parry attacks. This shield not only does both but deals critical damage as it parries an attack.

Alucard’s Sword is merely the “Nothing personal kid *teleports behind you*” meme in weapon form. Any enemy unlucky enough to come across the player with this sword will see—nothing. That’s because the player will blink behind the hapless victim and deal critical damage to them while closing the distance and avoiding their frontal attacks altogether. It’s not a perfect weapon by all means–the player needs to be at a medium range. Not “long,” “close,” or “somewhat medium but not quite–” It has to be medium range. This would be my undoing in one of the later biomes but in the early stages I was tapping into my biggest anime protagonist to all foes, regular and boss alike.

After defeating Death, Alucard will tell the player that they don’t have much else of use for them and will reach out to them at a later time. This then segues into the fourth biome and branches into Dead Cells’ usual levels. Even during this run, I reached a biome I never entered before thanks to the runes I’d picked up. There are four main runes, Ram, Spider, Teleportation, and Vine, that allow players to access otherwise inaccessible places in a biome. Sometimes these harbor secrets while other times this unlocks secret entrances to biomes that require a method to enter.

After the first "run," the Castlevania DLC continues upon completion or death. Guess what happens here?

However, these biomes are usually guarded with an extra challenge awaiting the player. The Slumbering Sanctuary for example has a switch that unlocks the passage to the next biome yet doing so “awakens” the Sanctuary. This not only changes the biome but also awakens strong golems that can instantly two-shot the player. Alternatively, using a teleportation rune in the Stilt Village will unlock the Forgotten Sepulcher. There’s a darkness that will suffocate the player, dealing damage over time unless the player reaches a light source. Some biomes even have a hazard that deals damage should the player fall off. 

Each biome is different and unique in its complexity which can make and break runs. As this was my first time reaching the Forgotten Sepulcher, I didn’t realize how claustrophobic the areas were. I couldn’t reach the criteria to use the Alucard Sword to my maximum potential, I got surrounded, and once again another run is in the bin. But this wasn’t all useless as Alucard will reach out to the player and tell them that the Clock Tower in Dead Cells can be used similarly to the Clock Tower in the Castlevania-verse. 

The next time the player is required to continue the Castlevania DLC, they must do so through the Clock Tower boss. This replaces the final biome with Dracula’s Castle, with an awakened and upset Dracula waiting for the player with an entirely new layout. Only then can the player hope to duel with the vampire lord himself. Only one instance of the Return to Castlevania DLC can be accessed per run, meaning if the player starts at the Castle Outskirts again, they cannot duel Dracula as they will instead fight Death again. Dracula joins the Queen and the Hand as the game’s “final boss” runs.

The longest family feud in history.

While I have yet to complete a run, there is one more parallel between the protagonist and the Return to Castlevania DLC, specifically Alucard. Both characters have a lot to do with their respective “final bosses,” as the King is related to the protagonist as Alucard was to Dracula. This doesn’t get figured out until the end of their respective stories, making this overlap an interesting one. It’s not just Symphony Of The Night that gets referenced, as the earlier Order of Ecclesia reference indicates. This is a fantastic DLC not just for fans of Castlevania, its enemies, and its aesthetics, but also for the lore indulgers who notice the similarities plus more between our heroes. 

There’s even a moment where the protagonist can enter the “save room,” although it does very little to the protagonist as Dead Cells and Castlevania are two different games. If this was SOTN, perhaps this room would have been beneficial, but it’s great for adding flavor to the DLC. Ultimately, there are three biomes (if the player considers the ‘awakened’ Dracula’s Castle as its own separate instance), two boss biomes, and several weapons based on the games themselves. While I’ve gushed about Alucard’s Sword and Shield, other weapons like the Cross are interesting and behave almost similarly to their in-game counterparts.

Right now, the base game is on a 40% discount to commemorate the release of Return to Castlevania and if the rating I gave this game is any indication, Dead Cells is one of the best action games I’ve played in a long time. It’s incredibly simple to grasp and understand—Kill everything, acquire loot, try not to die, die anyway to something small after surviving a gauntlet, rinse, and repeat. The sense of progression from exchanging enemy cells into permanent upgrades helps make reaching the end a little easier each time. The graphics are simple but beautiful, with smooth physics reminding me of older titles like Vectorman.

Truer words have never been spoken.

One day I’ll come back to this game, having completed several runs and collected several boss cells, having seen the real ending to Dead Cells and closing the coffin lid on Dracula for good. It can be a long and arduous process that can feel daunting having come so far only to fall at the final stretch. But then you try again and play one more. “Just one more run,” the player tells themselves knowing that this was said, “ten runs ago.” No matter, there’s an entire dangerous world to explore as well as a castle to conquer. If this is your first time experiencing Dead Cells as I have, the Return to Castlevania DLC will draw you in, with everything else about the game keeping you hooked for days, months, and even years.

Plus you can play as Ritcher Belmont himself as a bonus level, complete with his vampire killing whip and all.

Dead Cells and its Return To Castlevania DLC is now available on Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and the Nintendo Switch.

Leave a Reply