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March 2024

Dead Cells

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Motion Twin
Release Date: Aug. 7, 2018


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PC Review - 'Dead Cells' Return to Castlevania DLC

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 6, 2023 @ 6:00 a.m. PST

Dead Cells is a roguelike, Castlevania-inspired action-platformer, allowing you to explore a sprawling, ever-changing castle… assuming you're able to fight your way past its keepers.

Dead Cells has never been shy about being inspired by Castlevania. One of the options for food graphics was always described as, "Castlevania-esque." Out of left field as it is, Dead Cells crossing over with Castlevania is a match made in heaven. The Return to Castlevania DLC does everything it promises, dropping a hefty chunk of Castlevania into the morbid world of Dead Cells so you can whip vampires and eat wall meat to your heart's content.

As you can imagine, Return to Castlevania is probably the most substantial crossover between Dead Cells and another franchise yet. The Castlevania areas of the game are given a complete makeover, including replacing shopkeepers with special cameos, altering sound effects, and (of course) adding in an absurd amount of Castlevania music. Dead Cells has a great soundtrack, but it's hard to not get excited when "Vampire Killer" or "Bloody Tears" starts playing.

Return to Castlevania introduces three new biomes, though one of those biomes is more like two forms. If you enter the DLC early, you get the castle outskirts and the castle itself, and you end with a boss fight against Death, who replaces the standard first boss. Alternately, you can enter it from the clock tower directly after the boss fight, where a harder version of Dracula's Castle replaces the final stage, with old Drac himself as the final boss.

The new biomes are fun. The first is structured more like an old-school Castlevania game with a more linear layout, while the second calls to mind the Symphony of the Night-style gameplay with a more wide-open area you'll need to explore. There's even a miniboss fight against Medusa, which you'll need to complete before you can exit the area. The core Dead Cells experience is still here, as the game was inspired enough by Castlevania that the two go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

Probably the star of the show is the final boss fight against Dracula, which is my favorite final boss fight of the ones currently available in Dead Cells. It may arguably be one of the easier ones, but the ease is in good ways, as it lacks the absurdly confined quarters of the Hand of the King or similar. I'll make Dracula's Castle my final stop pretty often, as it feels darn fun to play.

There's also a wide variety of new weapons available, and they  mostly revolve around iconic tools from the franchise. Some, like the Cross, are pretty much exactly what you'd expect. You throw it, it spins and returns, and it deals critical damage on return. Others have a fun twist on the formula. The Bible is a melee weapon, and you beat the ever-living daylights out of an enemy with it, with a combo unleashing the more standard spinning subweapon that does critical damage.

My favorites are probably the Alucard Sword and Vampire Killer. The Alucard Sword is a solid melee weapon but has a special feature; if you attack from mid-range, you'll teleport and slash the enemy for critical damage, making it a fun and flexible weapon. The Vampire Killer is absurdly good, a fast weapon with a huge range that automatically crits on any enemy inflicted with the fire status effect. My first run after I unlocked it was a nonstop buzzsaw of destruction.

One of the most appealing add-ons is also the huge number of costumes. The main leads of Castlevania, Castlevania 3 and Symphony of the Night all have costumes available. However, Grant DeNasty is sadly absent, and in his place is Curse of Darkness' Hector, as well as a number of variants for both Death and Dracula. These costumes are neat and even come with unique dialogue before the final fight with Dracula. (The Alucard costume repeats the interaction between Alucard and Dracula in the Inverted Castle in Symphony of the Night.) They're easily some of my favorite costumes in the game.

Speaking of which, the DLC also includes a hidden Richter mode that can be unlocked after beating Dracula once. Richter mode can be activated in the harder Dracula Castle map and lets you play an alternate version of the map as Richter. The gameplay mechanics are changed to be Castlevania style, with hearts in candles, subweapons, and the Morning Star as your only weapon. You go around the alternate map and collect various upgrades. At the end, you'll gain any cells you collected, in addition to several blueprints that can only be found in this mode.

Rather like Richter mode in Symphony of the Night, this is more of a charming novelty than anything else. It's neat to take on the alternate gameplay, but Richter feels a lot stiffer, and his somersault jump feels more like a punishment than a bonus. It's a neat little extra, and while I won't repeat it much, it's still some added flavor.

At $9.99, Return to Castlevania is the most expensive DLC for Dead Cells yet, but it is substantial enough to be worth it. The new areas are a ton of fun, and the number of new weapons and costumes is hefty enough to add extra value to the game. It might not hit as hard for those who don't have nostalgia for Castlevania, but even then, the extra biomes and boss fights are pretty darn great.

Score: 9.0/10

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