Review: Sand Land Takes You on a Wild Ride
Image via Bandai Namco

Review: Sand Land Takes You on a Wild Ride

As a lifelong Akira Toriyama fan, I went into Sand Land knowing I would enjoy my time messing with the vehicular combat and exploring the world of the manga. What I didn’t expect was how much I would end up liking it. The world of Sand Land is fully realized, easy to jump into for fans and newcomers alike, and a fantastic farewell from the late manga creator and developer ILCA.

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In Sand Land, players take on the role of Fiend Prince Beelzebub, a youthful demon that teams up with his demon friend Thief and the human sheriff Rao to find the Legendary Spring in order to find a solution to the extreme drought that is ailing the titular country of Sand Land. The game is a direct adaptation of Akira Toriyama’s one-shot manga released in 2000. In addition to going over the events of the manga, the game covers the new content written by Toriyama for the recent anime adaptation that started airing earlier in 2024. One of these additions is new character Ann. In the anime, Ann only appears after the first half of the story. In the game, Ann appears very early on and is a bit more involved in the plot of the first arc of the game. This offers a nice narrative remix for those familiar with the anime.

Despite being an adaptation, players don’t need to read nor watch the source material to fully enjoy their time with the game. Sand Land offers a number of lovingly written characters. Maybe I’m biased, since I like serious-yet-gentle old men that are on a road to atone and learn from their mistakes, but I think that Rao is the standout ally in the game. And of course, Beelzebub is a dastardly rascal that I can’t help but love. I found the writing to be pretty solid and fun, and I think that Sand Land in particular stands out among Toriyama’s other works, offering a simple yet great narrative exploring an anti-militarist sentiment focused on humanitarian cooperation.

The gameplay loop in Sand Land revolves around exploring the vast desert while alternating between a growing roster of vehicles, engaging in fights with both local fauna and the King’s army, and repopulating the ghost town of Spino. The latter is a unique addition to the game, and it’s one of its most engaging aspects. As players complete side quests, people from all over the world will join Spino as new residents. Some of the stories tied to these characters are simple and fun, while some can be quite sobering. New inhabitants also means more vendors and new facilities, like your own customizable room, a paint shop, or a bar where players can pick up bounties. The way in which the main story of the game and the micronarratives found in Spino combine helps enrich the world of Sand Land.

Players will start the game with a lengthy tutorial section that naturally teaches that, while on-foot exploration and combat is viable, they should spend most of their time traversing the vast wasteland via a variety of vehicles. As the mainstay in the roster, tanks are powerful and relatively fast, serving as great all-rounders. Other vehicles like cars or motorbikes are fast, but are trickier to aim at enemies, or offer alternative ways of engaging in combat, while others like hoverboards allow players to avoid dangerous terrain. However, it can take quite a while to get the ball rolling and acquire different interesting vehicles.

As part of the main quest, players will need a variety of different vehicles, each suited for different situations. I found my first roadblock during the tutorial teaching me how to build a Jump-bot. While the game takes you through the steps of where to find a blueprint and frame, it doesn’t teach you at any moment how to find the different parts to complete it, nor the materials needed for the parts. This led to me spending around 5 hours to find the requirements, only to be taught how to craft them myself after completing it. I find that altering the order of these two quests would have made for a better paced tutorial, as I didn’t have trouble finding materials after this moment of forced scarcity.

That said, vehicle customization and combat is great. There is a large number of different vehicles, each with different strong points and weaknesses. While the game is generally not difficult, some encounters had me alternating between vehicles in order to adapt to the pace and use the different weapons I equipped. For example, against groups of enemies with various tanks and several infantrymen carrying rocket launchers, I would use the gravity gun attached to my jump-bot to gather all small enemies in the same spot, switch to my tank and fire my two-round battery to eliminate them in a swift strike, and then jump into my hovercraft to strafe while shooting quad rockets at the bigger targets without the danger of being sniped. While enemy variety can be a bit limited, boss fights are great. There are plenty of unique encounters, from organized tank battalions, aircraft, motorbike fights, and even combat armor duels.

In contrast, on-foot combat is not as fleshed out, but still offers a serviceable experience. Light and strong attack buttons allow for a few combo strings, and Beelzebub can use various abilities like a rushdown of punches, a boulder throw, or an AoE shockwave. These come in handy during the scripted on-foot sequences that serve to break up the pace. Another element to combat and exploration are party abilities. Thief, Rao, and Ann can learn various passive and active abilities that help. Thief’s abilities focus on acquiring resources, while Rao can deploy his own tank and assist Beelzebub in combat, and Ann helps as the mechanic by offering healing to vehicles and supportive abilities. During the on-foot fights the party will also engage with enemies, and it is very fun seeing Rao be the coolest guy in Sand Land.

When it comes to the volume of content, Sand Land can be a pretty long game. The main quest alone can take players between 30 to 40 hours to complete depending on how much side content they do, and even more if they go for completionism. Even 35 hours in, the game was still giving me new gadgets and completely unique vehicles. To top it off, the game features a variety of side content, like racing tracks, bounties, and an arena. And if the main Sand Land region was already vast enough, the second part of the game takes players to Forest Land, a green and lush new area introduced in the anime.

The visuals in the game are pretty beautiful, with characters sporting a nice cell shaded style, and the world offering a lot of visual variety. Even the Sand Land region is varied, with its different styles of deserts, like dunes and badlands. And, as one can expect, the character and mech designs by Akira Toriyama are top notch.

Sand Land shows what can be done with licensed manga and games. The game is a great vehicular action-RPG, and easily one of the best anime and manga games available. Despite some early pacing issues, the game is at its best when introducing a vast and engrossing world, accompanied by the beautiful visuals and great story penned by the late Akira Toriyama.

Sand Land will release on April 26, 2024 for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and PC via Steam. A demo is now available.

Sand Land

Dive into a desert world where both humans and demons suffer from an extreme water shortage - SAND LAND. Meet the Fiend Prince Beelzebub, his chaperone Thief, and the fearless Sheriff Rao, and follow the team on an extraordinary adventure in search of the Legendary Spring hidden in the desert. The end is only the beginning, as beyond this arid ground lies a new realm to explore. PS5 version reviewed. Review copy provided by company for testing purposes.

Sand Land is a great vehicular action-RPG, one of the best anime and manga games available, and a parting gift from the late Akira Toriyama.

Food For Thought
  • Thief's gathering ability is great for farming materials easily while on the go.
  • Always carry a varied vehicle loadout. I recommend a tank, jump-bot, hovercraft, and a vehicle for speed.
  • I wished the map key items also showed the chests and difficuly collectibles in the general map, not just in the minimap.
  • The tutorial for stealth does a poor job at introducing the mechanic. Infiltrating bases in the open world can be a blast.

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Daniel Bueno
Daniel is a staff writer and translator from the Spaghetti Western land of Andalusia, Spain. He got his start writing for Xbox Outsider in 2022. His favorite genres are RPGs, survival horrors, and immersive sims. In truth, he is a Dragon Quest slime in a human suit.