Dead Cells: Return To Castlevania Review - Screenshot 1 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Few games have enjoyed post-launch support as robust and high-quality as Dead Cells has received for the past six(!) years. Motion Twin has produced wave after wave of updates, some free and some paid, which have packed the already awesome base game with a dizzying amount of new biomes, weapons, cosmetics, and more. And all of it feels like it’s been leading up to the new Return to Castlevania DLC. Though this new update from partner developer Evil Empire — a studio made up of "ex-Motion Twin team members and new recruits" — technically only adds a few hours of additional content to the base Dead Cells experience, every inch of it is clearly crafted with love and care for Konami's spooky, vampire-slaying franchise.

You can interact with the new content right off the bat by simply talking to Richter Belmont in the Prisoner’s Quarters, and following the stairs to a new door that will take you to the outskirts of Dracula’s castle. Obviously, the goal here is to ascend the castle and defeat the freshly resurrected King of the Night himself, aided by allies like Maria Renard and Alucard. Still, Dracula has brought some friends, too, and you’ll have to battle through the likes of Medusa and Death itself to get your shot at taking on the ageless villain.

Dead Cells: Return To Castlevania Review - Screenshot 2 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Though it only takes a couple of hours (depending on the difficulty level and your skill) to make the ascent and send ol’ Drac back to sleep for another hundred years, there’s a decent amount of content here to unlock and take with you into the rest of the game. While slicing and whipping your way through the likes of Werewolves and Armor Knights, enemies will occasionally drop blueprints—not unlike the two Sorrow games—that you can later invest cells into to grant yourself access to some useful weapons and skills. Staple sub-weapons like the Holy Water and Throwing Axe are of course up for grabs, along with interesting new weapons like Death’s Scythe or Medusa’s Head. Then, of course, there are the cosmetic armors, which let you dress up as characters such as Simon or Alucard.

Perhaps the biggest delight of Return to Castlevania is that the developers were keen to pack this DLC with as many references and easter eggs as possible. Walk into the passage between biomes, and you’ll find that the Collector has been replaced by Shanoa, the star of Order of Ecclesia. Enter into a new biome and you'll see its name briefly flash up on a title card in the same way that levels did in Rondo of Blood. Talk to Maria about her cat, and she’ll tell you that its name is Byakko, but it depends on who you ask, referring to its many appearances throughout the series. It feels like the meat of the content in this DLC is inspired by Symphony of the Night (duh) and Rondo of Blood, but there are still plenty of references to the broader Castlevania series everywhere.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

In terms of presentation, Return to Castlevania does a great job of adapting iconic Castlevania visuals in a way that tracks with the Dead Cells universe, feeling like a fitting fusion of the two. Whether you’re gazing up at the weird towers of the castle silhouetted against a massive blue moon or staring down Death’s grinning visage as he pulls out his huge scythe, there’s a palpable sense that the environments and enemies here are truly distinct from the things you encounter in the rest of the game. Meanwhile, stepping into a biome to hear a new rendition of 'Vampire Killer' or 'Bloody Tears' is magical, and it’s even better when you realize that changing the music to 8-bit brings back the original tracks in all their chiptune glory.

The only drawback of this DLC is that it’s, well… just DLC. As only a relatively small part of a much larger game, the Castlevania content is memorable and high-quality, but there’s really not that much of it to see. This makes sense, of course, any more content would risk turning Dead Cells into a weird backdoor reboot of the Castlevania series, but we couldn’t help but wish that there was more to see after it’s been so long since the last time we got to wield the whip. Between the lovingly crafted biomes, bosses, and the various unlockables carry forward into the main game, this DLC is absolutely worth the ten dollars it costs to unlock, but it feels like ten dollars is the maximum this could cost without feeling overpriced.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

It's also worth mentioning that aside from a cute section where you get to play as Richter, this DLC plays exactly the way that you would expect Dead Cells to play. That same razor-sharp, fast-paced combat is present and correct, the environments of Dracula’s iconic castle are randomly generated each run, the expansive, explorative elements — the ones that meld with Metroid to make up everyone's favourite genre term — are only present to the slightest degree, and you’re still gonna die a lot. This may seem obvious, but we just want to make it clear that this expansion feels like Dead Cells with a Castlevania skin, not Castlevania with a Dead Cells skin.

This distinction is important, as any Castlevania fans who bounced off Dead Cells for one reason or another may be disappointed to learn that what soured their interest in the base game is still present here, too.


If you liked Dead Cells, it’s a no-brainer that you must get the Return to Castlevania DLC as soon as possible. It may be brief, but this is a brilliantly intense and nostalgic trip to a spookier world that fits in well with the broader offering of content in the base game. This feels like it’s primarily made for Dead Cells fans who also happen to like Castlevania — it's unlikely to convert Castlevania aficionados who don’t get on with Motion Twin's roguelite. At any rate, we loved it and it's great to see Castlevania back in video games again. Let's hope that Konami takes notice and opts to give us a full revival soon.