I didn’t expect Dead Cells to have such a prolonged shelf-life but we’re going on almost six years now and Motion Twin seemingly knows how beloved their game is. That’s why it’s still around and receiving regular updates and moreover, impressive crossovers that seem to make a great game even better. I never imagined Dead Cells as a Castlevania clone but it certainly wore its inspirations on its sleeve. After spending about a week with the latest Dead Cells expansion Return to Castlevania, I’m left impressed that the two series work so well together.
MotionTwin was given permission to use the Castlevania IP in an exciting mash=up that blends the two gameplay styles into something I haven’t been able to put down. The fourth paid expansion arrives this week and is easily the best piece of content the fascinating Dead Cells has seen thus far. When you begin your excursion to Dracula’s castle, a new path is presented to your character in-game that leads to the iconic location. Essentially adding a couple of new biomes to explore, these new areas are filled with randomly generated maps to continually challenge the player’s descent into one of the most implicitly evil places in the medium.
Return to Castlevania is the best Dead Cells expansion yet
There isn’t a lot of similarities between the two series with Castlevania rewarding exploration by revealing secrets and rewards to the player. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Dead Cells introduces new biomes and asks the player to get through alive by finding the optimal path into the next territory. To put it simply these two properties are opposing forces that shouldn’t work together. And yet, the newest expansion is an amalgamation of both series.
I didn’t expect a ton of story exposition going in and meeting Richter and Alucard, two iconic characters, who serve as nothing more than a bridge to the new content. They have a clear purpose here as they guide you in the right direction.
While there are only two new biomes, I feel like these are vastly different than anything I’ve seen so far from Dead Cells. These areas feel like they were pulled directly from Castlevania in a sense but updated to fit the mechanics of Dead Cells – secret rooms and all. A lot of familiar enemies return from the skeletal army, the bats, the werewolves, and a few other surprises along the way. There are also three impressive bosses to tackle with both Dracula and Death keeping your character on their toes.
An Easter Egg filled romp in Dracula’s Castle
And thankfully, this rather faithful expansion has some familiar weapons like the Cross and Holy Water to make you an unstoppable force against the evils in front of you. Like any equipment in Dead Cells, you can add modifiers and upgrades to the new arsenal once you’ve unlocked them. Combat is immensely satisfying, and it excels at melding the mechanics to a certain degree. It is always satisfying entering a new run that connects almost perfectly, hitting the right rooms and enemies, finding themed blueprints for new upgrades, and then finally hitting the boss with all your tools before moving on.
If you’ve played Dead Cells before, you’ll know how agonizing and defeating it is to hit a wall after a rather impressive run. In this expansion, there were a handful of times I felt defeated and wanted to stop but there is an addicting gameplay loop I can’t seem to quit. That’s why Dead Cells and by extension now, Castlevania are impressive because they provide something familiar while continuing to challenge the player’s merit.
I had a few runs where I was about to face Dracula only to watch my run completely fall apart and see me start from the beginning. I was disappointed I’d allowed my run to implode so close to the end but the addicting gameplay loop means that it isn’t nearly as bad as the main game’s campaign but mostly because the expansion does a good job at providing a steady stream of upgrades for some powerful builds.
In what feels like a match made in hell, Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania provides a beautiful love letter to Konami’s iconic series while adding something new to the mix. Sure, it might not be nearly as intrinsic as the main series but there’s enough to enjoy between the blueprints, new weapons, and unlockable costumes to wear. And when you’re finished, the added benefit of playing as some of the iconic characters almost makes up for not having a new Castlevania in almost a decade.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Steam