Dead Cells‘ development studio, Motion Twin, has never been bashful about leaning into the roguelite’s Castlevania-inspired roots. From the 2D side-scrolling medieval levels to the Metroidvania-esque exploration systems that hinge on finding new exploration abilities, it’s obvious that Dead Cells owes a lot to games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. So it comes as little 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, thus far, has only teamed up with other indies for costume collaborations. Blending in a major, established franchise like Castlevania is another step entirely. And thankfully, the studio pulls it off swimmingly.
Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania is the fourth paid DLC for the game, and, at $10, it’s also the most expensive of the bunch. But for lovers of Castlevania, there’s a cornucopia of glorious fan service hiding within.
As with Dead Cells‘ past DLC packs, Return to Castlevania adds a new path through the game, bringing you to the outskirts of Dracula’s castle, over its well-worn drawbridge, and into the depths of despair that lie within. In practical terms, it consists of basically two new “biomes” inspired by the outer walls and the inner sanctum of the castle made famous by dozens of Castlevania releases. As with the other biomes in Dead Cells, there’s some random level generation at play with these new areas, so it’ll be somewhat different each time you make your way through. Within these zones, you’ll spot plenty of familiar sights, like skeletons throwing bones, haunted sets of armor hurling axes, and various other nodes to the franchise.
The newly added visuals are a perfect re-creation of the Castlevania vibe within the Dead Cells aesthetic, which opts for a crunchier pixel style than the source material. And yet, the familiar landmarks, like Symphony of the Night‘s bizarre floating geometry to indicate a save point, are instantly recognizable. Helping to sell the illusion is a soundtrack new to Dead Cells made up of classics from the history of Castlevania, which you can choose to play wherever you are in the game, not just in the new biomes.
A few new boss fights, including Dracula himself, keep these areas filled with tension and laughs. In the lead-up to Dracula’s fight, for example, he might randomly appear and flip the entire castle upside down (in another hilarious nod to Symphony of the Night). Keys like this are entirely in keeping with Dead Cells‘tone, which, for a game where you play as a beheaded character, has always been surprisingly silly, and has never taken itself too seriously.
I’ve been enjoying Dead Cells since it first launched, and thus far I’ve been thrilled about Return to Castlevania. It’s one of the most polished and well executed of the game’s post-launch content. Castlevania fans, too, have plenty to swoon over, with numerous series references and large handful of unlockable costumes to discover, letting you explore Dead Cells as mainstays like Alucard, Richter, and Death itself. All we can hope is that this lays the groundwork for Motion Twin to pair up with other long-dormant franchises for similar passion projects. Tea Bubble Bobble x Dead Cells mashup is just begging 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 provided by Motion Twin. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.