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I’m going to come clean and admit that Dead Cells missed my radar entirely when it first released back in 2018. The “MetroidVania” style roguelike challenges players with zipping through an ever changing environment while progressively growing stronger with each run, facing challenging bosses along the way. Where Dead Cells stands out from the crowd in my experience is the speed element of it all. Sure, I first approached the game like I do most roguelikes in taking caution at every turn, plotting out every single move, and trying to die as little as possible.
Yeah, Dead Cells kicked my ass pretty fast when using this approach. The game instead has a great emphasis on speed and dodging. The player character moves insanely fast through the environment and has tools in his arsenal designed to deliver out brutal punishment using three core concepts: Brutality, Tactics, and Survival. Brutality is how the player dishes out damage and is able to be modified using weapons found in the environment. Tactics are the throwable weapons the player can use, and Survival modifies the player’s health and healing properties.
I cannot begin to say how amazing it feels to find a stronger weapon in the environment and absolutely lay waste to enemies at blistering speeds. To hit a door opening into an unsuspecting enemy and then clearing out the room before running off in a speedy fashion; it’s a blast. Borrowing inspiration from Dark Souls, players gather “cells” that can be used for upgrades that are permanent if players survive to a checkpoint. Die on a run and you lose it all, and the layout of the environment changes. I found this loop insanely satisfying in how great it all feels to play with tight controls, fantastic speed, and weapons that feel as if they have a good amount of weight to them. To put it bluntly: the base game of Dead Cells absolutely rocks.
But you’re not here for that, are you? You’re here because in a surprise announcement, developers Motion Twin revealed that an official collaboration with Konami was in the works that would bring the world of Castlevania into the world of Dead Cells. When starting a new run, a path will open up that takes players to a whole new environment inspired by the immortal classic Symphony of the Night. They call it Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania.
Right away I was impressed with the level of care that Motion Twin took in adapting Castlevania to Dead Cells. From the moment you step into the new area you hear the blistering sounds of a techno remix of “Vampire Killer” and have to find a path to open the castle gates while facing enemies pulled straight from the games. It felt like an overwhelming sense of nostalgia washing over me as I navigated Dracula’s ever shifting castle.
The player will also come across characters from the Castlevania universe in their journeys such as Shanoa, Richter, and Alucard, all recreated in the hyper-stylized Dead Cells art style, and their depictions remain true to their original incarnations that fans of the original series are comfortable with. Not only are characters and environments from the series added but the player will also be able to gain access to iconic weapons from the series in the form of blueprints that the player can craft in Shanoa’s shop. All of the Castlevania pieces fit nicely into the Dead Cells format and I’m honestly impressed with how much I love it (unforgiving difficulty and all). There’s even an unlockable “Richter Mode” that allows players to take control of the famous Belmont vampire slayer in classic Castlevania tradition.
Overall, Return to Castlevania is a great addition to the Dead Cells package. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the original series, it’s hard not to admit how cool it is to slash your way through a gothic castle while techno remixes of the original tunes play. Dead Cells is a major gaming blind spot that I’m glad to have cleared off and Return to Castlevania is one hell of an expansion that makes an already appealing game even better. It makes me wish Konami would dust off the franchise and give us a new 2D entry, but for now this will do just fine.
I’ll be playing Dead Cells and all of its expansions for years to come.
Review code provided by the publisher.