Castlevania fans have been eating well lately, even if it feels a little backhanded at times. With the successful Netflix show running for four seasons, a lot of fans expected a new game at a minimum. But since this show’s timing coincided with Konami gently easing back into games, the result has mostly been new merch and some compilation work with older games. We still don’t have that new game here, but Dead Cells’ new Return to Castlevania DLC feels like something fresh and new in a way that’s almost hitting that energy.
Return to Castlevania is interesting because of how directly bolted-on this new content is to the core Dead Cells loop. While other crossover DLC only pops up in the items pool or random events, Castlevania comes with full biomes that are always present. You can always start your run with the Castle Outskirts, or you can choose the path to end your run in Dracula’s Castle. That’s on top of all the other, more familiar goodies you can unlock. There’s a tremendous sense of reverence from seeing Dead Cells sort of submit to its obvious inspiration in that way.
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It’s also interesting to see Return to Castlevania play things relatively safely, mostly borrowing from Symphony of the Night and Rondo of Blood to tell its little story. At the same time there are surprising inclusions such as Shanoa from Order of Ecclesia, and Mathias Cronqvist from Lament of Innocence. There were clearly Castlevania sickos involved here, so while I understand DLC can only go so hard, it’s easy to imagine a form of this that got more weird and lore-y. Especially since with the goofy jokes and easter eggs it’s clear those sickos also really captured these characters’ voices.
The best parts of Return to Castlevania are all the times the DLC says, “hell yeah, Castlevania!”
That said, we also see the risky side of ambition here as well, with Richter Mode being a surprising disappointment for me. This little side attraction basically tries to make the Dead Cells fundamentals more like an actual Castlevania game, albeit with big compromises such as a dashing maneuver. It’s cute, but feels like a whiff on concept versus execution and I found myself avoiding it once I got the unlockables. It kind of exposes Dead Cell’s own limitations, as well as some fumbles in adapting Castlevania staples. The subweapons are mid, basically.
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The best parts of Return to Castlevania are all the times the DLC says, “hell yeah, Castlevania!” The not so best parts are whenever the DLC tries to invoke Castlevania in its gameplay. Chasing the unlockable outfits, listening to the music and exploring the new biomes were all awesome, but most of the new items didn’t feel good and Richter Mode was kind of a bummer. I appreciate the love and scale, and the commitment to the idea of a “Return” to Castlevania. But now I want to put Dead Cells down and play more Castlevania.
- So many outfits!
- Unexpected character cameos
- Full soundtrack replacement
- New items aren’t great
- Richter Mode is clumsy
- The Doctor Strange Dracula outfit is a war crime
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PC.