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Dead Cells’ Return to Castlevania DLC is joyous roguelike fan service


Dead cellsdevelopment studio, Motion Twin, has never been shy about leaning into the roguelite’s Castlevania-inspired roots. From the 2D side-scrolling medieval levels to the Metroidvania-esque scout systems that revolve around finding new exploration opportunities, it’s clear that Dead cells owes a lot to games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. So it comes as no surprise that the team convinced Konami to hand over the Castlevania license to be fully integrated into the world of Dead cells.

It’s a big step for Motion Twin, which has so far only partnered with other indies for this costume collaborations. Blending into a big, established franchise like Castlevania is another step. And thankfully, the studio succeeds.

Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania is the fourth paid DLC for the game and also the most expensive of the bunch at $10. But for Castlevania aficionados, there’s a plethora of glorious fan service hidden away.

Like with Dead cellsprevious DLC packs, Return to Castlevania adds a new path to the game and takes you to the outskirts of Dracula’s castle, across the worn drawbridge and into the depths of despair that lie within. In practice, it’s essentially two new “biomes,” inspired by the outer walls and inner sanctum of the castle made famous through dozens of Castlevania releases. Similar to the other biomes in Dead cells, there is a random level generation in play with these new areas, so it will be slightly different each time you make your way through. Within these zones, you’ll see plenty of familiar landmarks, such as bone-throwing skeletons, ghostly armor-slinging axes, and several other nods to the franchise.

The newly added visuals are a perfect recreation of the Castlevania atmosphere within the Dead cells aesthetic, opting for a crisper pixelated style than the source material. And yet, the well-known landmarks, such as Symphony of the night‘s bizarre floating geometry to indicate a save point are instantly recognisable. Helping sell the illusion is a new soundtrack Dead cells consists of classics from the history of Castlevania, which you can play wherever you are the game, not just in the new biomes.

Image: Motion Twin, Evil Empire

A few new boss fights, including Dracula himself, keep these areas filled with excitement and laughter. For example, leading up to Dracula’s fight, he can randomly appear and turn the whole castle upside down (in another hilarious nod to Symphony of the night). These kinds of touches are totally in line with Dead cellstone, who, for a game where you play as a decapitated character, has always been surprisingly dim-witted and has never taken himself too seriously.

Screenshot of Dead Cells Return to Castlevania DLC showing Alucard, a white-haired vampire, talking to the main character of Dead Cells, who has a flame head.

Image: Motion Twin, Evil Empire via Polygon

I’ve enjoyed it Dead cells since it first launched, and so far I’m excited about it Return to Castlevania. It’s some of the game’s most polished and well-executed post-launch content. Castlevania fans have plenty to swoon over too, with plenty of series references and a host of unlockable costumes to discover so you can explore Dead cells as mainstays like Alucard, Richter and Death himself. All we can hope is that this lays the groundwork for Motion Twin to team up with other long-dormant franchises on similar passion projects. The Bubble Bubble X Dead cells mashup begs to be made.

Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania was released on March 6 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code from Motion Twin. Vox Media has partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find additional information on Polygon’s Ethics Policy here.

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