Dead Cells: Return To Castlevania PS4 review – back to the source
Posted by  badge Boss on Mar 07
Return To Castlevania – Death comes to Dead Cells (pic: Motion Twin)

The latest DLC expansion for indie hit Dead Cells is a crossover with Castlevania, that’s filled with fan service and classic gameplay.

Castlevania is a very strange franchise. It hasn’t seen a major financial success since the early 90s and there hasn’t been a brand new game since 2014, with of new entries but nothing that has ever been confirmed. At face value it seems a minor franchise that is well past its sell-by date and yet it somehow managed to kickstart the modern era of authentic video game adaptations and, together with Metroid, has more influence on modern games than at any time in its history.

It seems madness that Konami hasn’t tried to capitalise on the success of the Netflix show, or the Metroidvania fad in general, but while their long-time disengagement from the games industry has shown signs of ending, with their recent , the only Castlevania games they’ve released lately have been . So it’s hard to tell what handing indie developer Motion Twin the keys to the franchise might mean for future titles, if indeed there are any.

This isn’t an entirely new game but yet more DLC for indie hit Dead Cells, which previously implied would be its final expansion. An exception has been made for this crossover though, not least because the original games were always a very obvious influence on Dead Cells itself.

Although Dead Cells is most commonly referred to as a roguelike it has always had strong elements of Metroidvania, where new weapons and equipment allow you to explore more and more of the map as you progress. Not every Castlevania, especially some of the earlier ones, was a Metroidvania though – some of them were just straight action platformers – and there’s always been a lot of that in Dead Cells as well. So, really, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect collaboration than this.

The most obvious difference between the two games is that Dead Cells uses randomly generated levels rather than taking place on a single, hand-crafted map. Motion Twin could’ve gone the easy route and just based everything on one of the action-only titles but instead they’ve recreated a Metroidvania style experience using randomised layouts.

This works extremely well and while the levels that are generated are always rather small, they do still make sense in terms of the interconnected lock and key puzzles within them. That’s a double-edge sword though as while it’s a lot of fun in the moment it can all be over disappointingly quickly, with none of the backtracking you’d expect of a true Metroidvania.

With the expansion eager to stimulate your nostalgia glands with as much vigour as possible, not only does this look like Castlevania but it sounds like it too, with multiple remixes of famous tracks as well as original versions. Naturally, many of the enemies are also the same, from Dracula and Death, all the way down to the skeletons and fishmen.

There’re also versions of many of the series’ most famous sub-weapons, such as bottles of holy water that are thrown like napalm and the boomerang-esque cross. Their origins are in Castlevania but they’re handled like Dead Cells weapons, with various upgrades and buffs available – as they are for any of the game’s equipment.

You still play as the nameless prisoner of the Dead Cells games but there are skins that let you dress up as characters like Simon Belmont, while the likes of Richter and Alucard turn up occasionally for a quick cameo. There’s not much of a story though, with the expansion’s tone being that of a pub tribute band getting all excited at the prospect of meeting its idols. But then storytelling never was much of a Castlevania virtue.

Return To Castlevania – the closest thing to a new game in ages (pic: Motion Twin)

Although the expansion is riddled with nods and Easter eggs to specific Castlevania games there are other elements that are purely Dead Cells, most obviously the high difficultly. All the DLC so far has, for obvious reasons, been aimed at veteran players and while Return To Castlevania doesn’t get too extreme it is still harder than the base game, which itself is no pushover.

Motion Twin clearly don’t want to put off anyone that’s just turned up for Castlevania and while you may see plenty of failure early on you quickly start unlocking some extremely powerful weapons, that start to take the edge off the difficulty. (Dead Cells is a roguelike but one of the secrets of its success is that it’s constantly rewarding you for making progress and much is retained between runs.)

There are plenty of secrets within Return To Castlevania that will delight fans of the series – including one major one that we’re certainly not going to spoil here – but at the end of the day it is just DLC and won’t take an experienced Dead Cells player more than two or three hours to get through.

If the biggest flaw with your game is that you wish there was more of it, then you know you’re doing something right and that really is the only issue here. There still might not be any sign of a new game from Konami but this infectiously enthusiastic slice of DLC is a fun, bit-sized reminder of why it deserves to return.

Dead Cells: Return To Castlevania review summary

In Short: A loving homage to Castlevania and another great slice of DLC for Dead Cells, with the two games working together in perfect harmony.

Pros: Dead Cells is as great as ever and all the Castlevania elements work together very well, with tons of fan service and some great music and hidden secrets.

Cons: This is only an expansion, so it ends up feeling disappointingly short compared to a full price game. Lack of backtracking and high difficulty may frustrate Castlevania fans.

Score: 8/10

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), One, , and PC
Price: £7.99
Publisher: Motion Twin
Developer: Motion Twin and Evil
Release Date: 6th March 2023
Age Rating: 16

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