Sand Land review: Tough tanks and funky footwork

Akira Toriyama's cult classic story finally gets the appreciation is deserves.
Bandai Namco

I adore Akira Toriyama, and I said as much when the legendary Dragon Ball creator passed. Seeing characters rendered in his unique artstyle always feels like a treat, and likewise, seeing his artstyle being brought to life in video games like Dragon Quest and Chrono Trigger gives them a charm that most RPGs just lack. Traditional anime boys and girls are fine, but there’s nothing quite like a Toriyama-designed anime boy or girl or demon.

Sand Land is a Toriyama manga that was written back in the year 2000, with the story only composed of a single manga volume. Set in a desert world where water is a scarce resource and Mad Max-style bandits roam the wastelands, protagonist Beelzebub is actually the Demon Prince, son of a Demon King that looks a lot like Dragon Ball’s Dabura – Toriyama isn’t one to let a good design go to waste, after all. Sand Land’s world feels distinctly Toriyama, but that goes beyond the art style, and seeps into the currency (Zeni), and super-scientific capsule technology, both of which are staples of the Dragon Ball series.

Though Demons are far stronger than your average human, this isn’t a super-powered action story, and characters like the grizzled 61-year-old human sheriff with a mysterious past, Rao, manages to be just as useful in the action and combat as Beelzebub. That’s because most of Sand Land is played from the back of a vehicle. 

The world has a lot plenty to uncover if you explore.
The world has a lot plenty to uncover if you explore. / Bandai Namco

Sand Land starts you out in a simple tank, but quickly gives you access to the Jump Bot – a vehicle that has a specific (obvious) use – and then a bunch more with their own advantages. Motorbikes might offer more speed, but obviously can’t hold as much heavy artillery, while Battle Armor is much heavier and slower than most vehicle types. You’ll get each vehicle type tutorialized when you first jump into the cockpit, and you can swap between them on the field with a simple radial menu – no running back to a garage between each mission to make sure you’re properly equipped. The rounded motorbike design is also identical to the one Bulma rides in the first chapter of Dragon Ball, and if you’ve seen Toriyama’s unique vehicle designs before, you’ll know that each is a treat.

Vehicles do trivialize a lot of the combat encounters, mind. If you have ranged missiles on a tank or something similar, you can usually bombard enemy health bars into oblivion before they even get in range to hit you back. There are a few on-foot combat encounters for the prince to handle though, and the on-foot combat was clearly an afterthought. It feels far rougher, and the game might’ve been better off skipping it entirely, actually.

Vehicular combat is simple, but vehicle types are cool for traversal.
Vehicular combat is simple, but vehicle types are cool for traversal. / Bandai Namco

In fact, that applies to a lot of the time you spend on foot as Prince Beelzebub. There are platforming sections, mandatory stealth sections, combat encounters, and a handful of lengthy, repetitive dungeon-like environments. Every moment spent on foot with Beelzebub instantly feels less polished and crisp than when you’re moving around in a vehicle. The developers clearly had priorities when designing the two systems, and one got preferential treatment.

When roaming around the sandy wastelands, blasting monsters, and solving side quests, Sand Land is a good time. It doesn’t push the boat out in any way, but it has genuinely fun and inviting vehicle combat, and any reason to engage with those vehicles feels like a good one. The problems come when you’re on foot, or running around town talking to people in order to progress your various quests to the next point. The game has full voice acting and it’s all generally well performed, but the dialogue drags, with almost every NPC having to act shocked about talking to a demon for several lines before getting on with things.

On foot sections are far less entertaining.
On foot sections are far less entertaining. / Bandai Namco

It’s not quite a game of two halves – most of your time playing will be in a vehicle, after a slow start – but it sure does feel like it. Sometimes it drags its feet a monumental amount, making progress feel tediously slow, but then sometimes you’re just sniping dinosaurs with rockets between desert dunes, and it’s great. 

Sand Land definitely isn’t essential, but if you have an interest in vehicle combat or a classic story written by one of manga’s greats, it’s worth playing. If you see Sand Land at a reasonable price, you’re going to have a good time.

Score: 7/10

Platform tested: PS5


Published
Dave Aubrey

DAVE AUBREY

GLHF Deputy Editor. Nintendo fan. Rapper. Pretty good at video games.