The prodigal son returns. Dead cells : Return to Castlevania Review.

Dead Cells, a six-year-old rogue-lite, Castlevania-inspired action-platformer, has been widely praised by critics and players alike as a mas...

Dead Cells, a six-year-old rogue-lite, Castlevania-inspired action-platformer, has been widely praised by critics and players alike as a master class in Metroidvania game design. The game has seen several DLCs added over time and is known as a roguelight, allowing you to explore a sprawling, ever-changing castle - assuming you’re able to fight your way past its keepers. To beat the game, you’ll have to master 2D "souls-lite combat," such as pattern-based bosses and minions, weapons and spells, with the ever-present threat of permadeath looming. If you die, you lose all your gains, with no checkpoints available. To conquer all the challenges in the castle's various biomes and ever-changing rooms and hallways, exploration and taking your own path is highly rewarded. Dead Cells also features the now familiar random design where the game's levels are procedurally generated, meaning that each new run is different from the last, but the overall layout and progression are reminiscent of each other. As players progress through the levels, they will acquire new weapons, abilities, and upgrades that allow them to explore new areas and take on tougher enemies.

If this sounds familiar, it's because of a little game called Castlevania, a gothic horror action-adventure video game series and media franchise created and developed by Konami. Castlevania is largely set on the grounds in and around the castle of Count Dracula, the main antagonist of the Belmont clan of vampire hunters. The first entry and the majority of its sequels are side-scrolling action platformers and were succeeded by the 1997 game, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which introduced role-playing elements and exploration, popularizing the Metroidvania genre.

Now, six years into its wildly successful run, the development team of Dead Cells added new content in homage to their original inspiration, Castlevania. After an ominous castle mysteriously appears, everyone’s favorite roguelike hero, The Beheaded, is drawn to its gates, lured by the allure of brand-new loot just begging to be taken. Once inside, however, he meets Richter and Alucard, and learns of the horrors the castle holds. Bolstered on, the trio advance through the maze-like manor with the goal of slaying Dracula and all the monsters protecting him - and grabbing whatever isn’t nailed down along the way. Battle your way through numerous new biomes before fighting Dracula and Death himself in massive, epic boss battles that will push your roguelike skills to the limit.

Dracula's castle is a maze-like place, designed with twists and turns meant to confuse those who find themselves lost in its halls. In other words, perfect for a Dead Cells biome. In this special reimagining these halls also hold wondrous secrets. From references to the Belmont adventures to new weapons, players will even be able find a hidden level where they can unlock and play Richter Mode. In a secret level located somewhere deep in the unwavering dark of Dracula’s castle lets them control the age-old Castlevania protagonist for a nostalgia trip that hits harder than the Vampire Killer itself. Playing as Richter including his classic move set inspired by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night So go explore and whip the undead under the rug.

Having not played the Dead Cell games before I was relieved to see that the new content that brought me here in the first place is available from the very start, whether you're a seasoned veteran player or new to the series. However, I must admit that experienced players will likely be better off setting foot on the castle grounds in comparison to newcomers who have no skills and familiarity built up with the Dead Cells game mechanics. That said, the fact that you can get right into it is really cool and prevents anyone jumping in now as fans of the Castlevania series from having to first spend many hours, days, or weeks playing through all other content so far.

The new content will be available as a new biome, and everything in it is Castlevania-themed. If you want extra atmosphere, you can even set the food drops to be Castlevania-esque in the menu. Wall chicken here we come. 

Much like any game in this blended genre, Dead Cells is no exception to the rule that dying is a key part of the gameplay loop. In fact, the game is notorious for its punishing difficulty, with players frequently dying and starting over from scratch. However, this is also what makes the game so addictive, as each new run provides an opportunity to try out different strategies and build a new character from the ground up.

One of the standout features of Dead Cells is its combat system, which is fast-paced, responsive, and incredibly satisfying. Players can use a variety of weapons, from swords and bows to grenades and turrets, and each weapon has its own unique feel and playstyle. The game also features a parry system that rewards skillful timing, as well as a dodge roll that can be used to avoid attacks and reposition during combat. The Castlevania DLC does add new weapons such as the whip and the boomerang cross as new blueprints, but the overall gameplay does not change drastically if at all from the rest of the game. However, the beautiful designs, new enemy types, npc's and boss fights shoot straight for the nostalgic spot in your heart and with the amazing soundtrack transports you straight back to the days of playing the Konami classics. 

After six years the team of Dead Cells show they have still enough in the tank to keep their game engaging and fresh and Return to Castlevania is a strong DLC addition to bring players back as well as introduce all new players into the fold. Whether you are a Dead Cells fan or a Castlevania fan looking for some nostalgia you can get a lot out of this new biome. Enabling people to go have a peek right from the start is a nice touch and if you are new you actually get a fantastic game with the Castlevania content that is all worth to explore by itself. Someone mentioned to me that in their eyes Dead Cells is a soul's game for impatient people and therefor more accessible and having played it , I can definitely not argue against that statement. It is clear to be aware that this is NOT some standalone Castlevania game, but the team mastered the look and feel of the originals, particularly "symphony of the night" and it is well worth visiting the castle grounds.

GameDead Cells : Return to Castlevania (DLC)

PublisherMotion Twin
Review Platform:  PC 
Developer: Motion Twin
Release Date:  6 March 2023 ($9.99)
PlatformsPC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.
ESRB: T for Teen (Violence, Blood and Gore)

About the writer: DadGeek (Rob) is the co-founder of GeeksVsGeeks. He is a product of the eighties and never let go of his geek interest and hobbies no matter how often someone told him to stop. His love for gaming and all things geeks has been part of his parenting style and permeates throughout the whole family. A family of Geeks vs Geeks  


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