Beyond Co-op Review: Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania
Review by: Paul Acevedo
Among Roguelike platformers, Dead Cells from Motion Twin and Rogue Legacy 2 are the cream of the crop. Dead Cells has made a name for itself by launching in 2018 and then continuing to release numerous updates and DLC expansions in the years since. The most recent expansion, “Return to Castlevania,” adds crossover material based on Konami’s beloved Castlevania series.
The main Dead Cells game begins with a mysterious, gooey creature dropping from the ceiling of a prison and then bonding with a recently decapitated corpse. In the absence of a proper head, “The Prisoner” has a ball of fire where its head should be. Roguelikes tend to involve frequent player deaths, so Dead Cells smartly integrates the concept into its premise. Whenever the protagonist dies, the bloblike creature returns to the starting point and inhabits a new corpse.
During each run, the goal is to progress through a series of increasingly difficult, randomly-generated dungeons. Along the way, players will find scrolls that allow them to increase one of three base stats while also boosting maximum health for the duration of the run. Defeated enemies sometimes drop “dead cells,” a currency that can be used to unlock permanent upgrades like additional Dark Souls-style health flasks and to add new weapons to the pool that can be found during gameplay. Additionally, some areas have runes that will permanently unlock new abilities, thus opening new pathways throughout the game.
Downloadable content is integrated in a unique way here compared to other games. To reach a DLC area, gamers have to navigate to it and/or meet certain conditions during a regular run through the main game.
After purchasing the “Return to Castlevania” DLC, players will encounter Richter Belmont in the starting area of the game. He then opens up a path to the “Castle’s Outskirts,” the first of two major new biomes (areas). Meeting Alucard in that first area will then allow access to the second biome, “Dracula’s Castle,” followed by a boss fight against Death. Then, after talking to Alucard and meeting a few more requirements on a subsequent run, players can reach the “Master’s Keep” and fight against a super tough version of Dracula from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. You can also find and play as Richter (with much looser controls than in SOTN).
The strange path to reaching the depths of the “Return to Castlevania” DLC can be frustrating, but it encourages players to build up their strength and learn the mechanics and stages better before facing the final boss. The Castlevania areas look great here, and it’s always nice to hear music from SOTN. The new looks for most of the Castlevania enemies are very cool, though not all. The developers make a few inauthentic choices like spawning mermen outside of water, but most of the expansion will be delightful for Castlevania fans. Players can also unlock skins for characters like Richter and Maria and numerous unique weapons via the DLC and then use them when playing the main game.
On the whole, Dead Cells is an amazingly addictive Roguelike platformer. The combat is super tight, naturally rewarding players as they practice and become more skillful. The island prison, its many biomes, and the lore are all fascinating and unique. The only negatives to speak of are the grinding required to unlock new equipment and features (the dead cells currency doesn’t go very far) and the occasionally obtuse methods of reaching areas. The game itself is a must-play for anyone who likes challenging platformers, and the “Return to Castlevania” DLC is a worthwhile purchase as well.
Dead Cells sells for $24.99 in digital and physical formats on Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, Steam, and iiRcade. The “Return to Castlevania” DLC sells separately for $9.99 and can also be purchased in a bundle with the base game for $31.49 on Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, and Steam. The Dead Cells: Medley of Pain bundle includes the base game, “Return to Castlevania,” and three additional DLCs for $39.99.
Our Rating: 4.5 out of 5