Relive Castlevania in another game just as action-packed and challenging in our Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania review!
It has been nine years since the last Castlevania game. Fans of the franchise haven’t been starved for content thanks to an acclaimed Netflix adaptation and an inclusion in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but those bloodthirsty for some vampire-killing have had an eternal wait. That all comes to an end with the new expansion for Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania. It may not be a mainline entry, but worry not – Castlevania fans are going to find a lot of solace in Dead Cells.
Jumping into Dead Cells for the first time to experience Return to Castlevania was a challenge – it’s a game you can sink hundreds of hours into without managing to beat due to its sheer difficulty and learning curve. Thankfully, I have a lot of experience in another series that’s similar to both Dead Cells and Castlevania – Rogue Legacy 1 and 2. I got up to speed in no time with understanding how lethal enemies are, how to manage resources, and more to ensure my runs didn’t end in minutes. Fans of both Dead Cells and Castlevania alike understand the challenge these games pose, so it’s a perfect overlap in that regard. But to newcomers/casual fans like me, how does this DLC pan out? Find out in our Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania review.
How do I access the Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania DLC?
First things first, to play Return to Castlevania, you’ll have to find Richter and descend some stairs in the first biome. This can take anywhere from 30 seconds to minutes due to Dead Cells’ roguelike nature, but you’ll know you’re on the right path after you die and die again. Once you encounter Richter, you’re ready to get stuck into the Return to Castlevania DLC.
Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania Review – Gameplay
Roguelikes and brutal, unforgiving difficulty goes hand-in-hand. I’ve played a fair share of the genre over the years, and Dead Cells tops the list in difficulty. In just a few hits, minutes and minutes of success can turn to failure. Coincidentally, the same can be said for several Castlevania games. I recently bought the Rondo of Blood/Symphony of Night and Castlevania Anniversary Collection titles on Playstation for just a few bucks, and it’s evident that these games stand the test of time in their toughness.
What’s great about both Dead Cells and Castlevania, though, are that they aren’t impossible. It’s the perfect level of high difficulty where you learn an enemy’s attack patterns, prioritize them accordingly, and with some nice reflexes, you’ll push yourself a little farther each time.
Richter and Alucard aren’t the only familiar faces in Return to Castlevania – expect to fight Mermen, Buers, Bone Throwers, and Vampire Bats around every turn.
Muscle memory will be the best benefit for players in Return to Castlevania. Whether it’s predicting where Bone Throwers will toss their bones at you, timing a shield parry to deflect damage as a Buer charges at you at a blistering pace, or expecting a Haunted Armor to appear from the shadows to throw you off your pace, combat is strategic and engaging.
Unlike Castlevania, though, there’s no checkpoints – those just now picking up Dead Cells like me for this expansion will have to get used to dying at a frenetic rate. One thing to note, though, is combat is mostly optional – running through levels to hit respite and save collected souls for progression isn’t a bad idea.
Make your way through the Outskirts, into Dracula’s Castle, and face Dracula himself. It sounds easy enough until you’re on your fifth run with one hit before death in this accursed castle.
Fighting Castlevania-themed enemies in Dead Cells just feels right. After playing some normal runs, Return to Castlevania was the more fun option through-and-through and I didn’t desire to do anything but this expansion. This was expanded upon once I was able to unlock Richter Mode – further authenticating the Return to Castlevania experience by letting one play as Richter Belmont. With a dash instead of a dodge-roll, a backflip instead of a double-jump, and a super jump to acquire, Richter adds a new element that even Dead Cells players that aren’t previously Castlevania fans can get some use out of.
Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania Review – Story
Story takes a backseat in most roguelike adventures, since the journey itself is what most players tend to remember. As such, Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania sees a straightforward offensive towards Dracula’s Castle, where you’ll do battle with him after overcoming Medusa and Death minibosses.
The Belmont/Alucard quarrels are a series staple and couldn’t be left out of Return to Castlevania.
This isn’t to say there aren’t lore goodies strewn about that will delight Castlevania fans – Legion from Symphony of the Night makes an appearance, there’s 20 different outfits to unlock, and Richter Mode is as close to a new Castlevania game as we’ll get until Konami makes some more effort. Castlevania fans should enter Return to Castlevania with the understanding that it’s more of the gameplay they seek than a new tale.
Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania Review – Audio
With some of the most iconic songs in gaming, massive renditions of “Vampire Killer” and “Bloody Tears” accompany you through the Castle Outskirts and Dracula’s Castle as you power through every run of Return to Castlevania. With guitars strumming along with an orchestra, high production value, and the perfect tone to match the intensity of a Dead Cells run, composer Yoann Laulan knocked it out of the park. In an article with Verge, Laulan mentions, “[it wasn’t] that easy, because it’s something that’s kind of sacred. I wouldn’t say it was an easy task to do.” This tall task was achieved and the composer did the source material justice.
How does Dead Cells run on Steam Deck?
Dead Cells has been verified for Steam Deck since the platform’s inception thanks to undemanding visuals. Roguelikes are fantastic pick-up-and-play titles that make perfect additions to the Steam Deck; in fact, all 50 hours of my Rogue Legacy 2 playthrough are exclusive to the portable device. Thankfully, Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania runs like a dream on the Steam Deck, with no frame drops and the natural controller gameplay feeling smooth the whole time. The average time of my runs were around 10-15 minutes, so it would be natural to take this on-the-go to keep inching closer and closer to Dracula.
Ascending the castle is just as much a challenge as it is in any Castlevania entry.
Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania Review – Conclusion
I came about Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania with only a small grasp of Castlevania and none with Dead Cells. In totality, it should have been a recipe for disaster due to it being a tough-as-nails rendition of a franchise I know nothing about. What I came away with was a new passion for both!
Crossovers can be hit-or-miss, but this one makes more sense than the majority of them – the difficulty, tone, and slow approach to fighting is positively seamless and ensures this game will not only appeal to fans of each/both franchises, but will serve as a nice entry point to those even slightly interested.
So, why should you play it?
- Masterful marriage of Dead Cells and Castlevania that will appease not just fans but newcomers
- Banging soundtrack that never gets old no matter how many runs you play
- Tons of replayability as you slowly get better and better at the game
But why shouldn’t you play it?
- Absolutely unforgiving and harder than most games on the market with a high learning curve
- Some frustration having to run through enemies before starting the expansion every run
A review code was kindly provided courtesy of Motion Twin for the purpose of our Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania review. If you enjoyed this review, be sure to read more of our roguelike reviews and join the official Qualbert Discord to be part of the discussion!