Overwhelmed by the mixture of souls-lite combat and the rogue-lite structure, Dead Cells has daunted me from the deep corners of my Steam library for the last five years. I kept a curious eye on it through the years, watching as a conveyor belt of DLC and add-ons rolled out, most of them celebrating other indie games with weapons and small nods to its indie kin. With Return to Castlevania, Motion Twin steps away from the indie inspired content and ventures into a world that inspired the self-proclaimed “Roguevania.” What they deliver is a handful of biomes, enemies, and boss encounters that immediately takes you back to the early days of GBA Castlevanias.
You don’t have to go far to access Return to Castlevania’s content. Series staple, Richter, guards the entry into the Castle Outskirts within the Prison Start area. Once in, you’re immediately hit with the classic tunes and pixelated art style. The enemies look great, and are a blend of skeletons, werewolves, and battle knights you come to expect from the series. There are a few story moments, but all you need to know is that Dracula is on the verge of awakening, and you need to defeat him. It’s an adventure that will take you across two full biomes, and two boss biomes.
Just like the rest of Dead Cells these Castlevania-inspired biomes are randomized. The structure in each pretty much remains the same, though. Exploring Castle Outskirts, you will always come to a portion that requires riding an elevator up multiple biomes and finding buttons to keep ascending further into the biome. The biomes are difficult, but never unfair. I found my failures to be more about my hard headedness and never about the game jacking me around. There are plenty of secrets to be found throughout your runs of the biomes. For example, the giant save icosahedron can be found, along with other well-known areas throughout the GBA games. It’s not a Caslevania if you’re not fighting the likes of Death or Dracula. The three boss fights through the DLC are challenging, nostalgic rides. My only complaint is that there aren’t more. Players looking to get a little extra out of the DLC can return upon completion and play through the biomes as Richter, with a limited move set and a sweet, pixelated character.
As a new player to the game, I did find it odd that the Return to Castlevania biomes were split up in two separate portions. I won’t spoil anything, but upon completing a boss fight, players venture back into a biome from the base game and have to fight their way through a handful of biomes and a boss, before getting to play the second half of the DLC biomes. This proved difficult for me and took me a few more runs before I got to continue my progress. Returning players may not have an issue with this, though. The game does not require you to replay the first half to get to the second half, but it is a long road ahead, no matter your path, when trying to get through the rest of the DLC.
The weapons introduced with the new add-on blend right into the rest of Dead Cell’s armory. Valmonts Whip is a single strike weapon that can break through shields. It’s only made deadlier with modifiers. Alucard’s Shield blocks and parries like your average shield, but also adds melee abilities. The standout is easily Death’s Scythe, which is not only devastating to enemies, but captures the souls of them to fight on your side. I paired the latter with a scepter (inspired by Shovel Knight’s King Knight) and found myself blasting through enemies. Some sub-weapons can also be unlocked, like your Holy Water and your Crosses you come to expect from Castlevania. These too become deadlier with modifiers, the deeper into your adventure you get. I found myself using these weapons long past the Castlevania biome and jumped at every chance to add them to my arsenal.
Players clamoring for more Dead Cells are getting just that with Return to Castlevania. There’s a small speed bump in the form of the way the biomes are split up, otherwise the biomes, enemies, and weapons fit right into the adventure and add even more nostalgia to a game already filled with callbacks and nods to its influences and indie counterparts. Players looking for some Castlevania and who have given up on waiting for Konami to get their act together will also have no problem jumping in. As a new player, Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania has sunk its teeth into me and has finally brought me into the Dead Cells cult of checking wikis and looking for the best ways to optimize a run.