Sand Land stands as a testament to the enduring charm of its revered creator

Sand Land stands as a testament to the enduring charm of its revered creator.

Approaching this video game adaptation of Akira Toriyama’s 24-year-old manga, I harbored mixed feelings. Bandai Namco’s track record with manga and anime adaptations, including titles like Naruto, Dragon Ball, and One Piece, often left me underwhelmed. Typically, these games amounted to average gameplay experiences cloaked in the familiarity of beloved franchises, which didn’t always resonate with me.

However, Sand Land bore an additional weight following Toriyama’s untimely passing at the start of March. In a sense, the game felt obliged to excel. Even if Toriyama’s involvement might have been primarily supervisory, Sand Land represents one of his final projects.

Thankfully, Sand Land proves itself more than merely passable. Its fundamental open-world design benefits from a distinctive vehicular focus, a light-hearted narrative featuring a charming cast of characters, and a manageable length. As a devoted Toriyama enthusiast, I view it as a commendable 25-hour excursion into a world crafted by one of the industry’s greats, less than two months after his departure.

Sand Land’s Plot

Belz and his friends embark on an adventure in Sand Land.
Credit: Bandai Namco/Steam

One of Sand Land’s most captivating aspects, for both gaming and Toriyama aficionados, is its innovative take on familiar tropes while establishing its unique identity.

While set in a post-apocalyptic backdrop like many other video games, Sand Land manages to evade the dreariness typical of such narratives, unlike titles like The Last of Us. Set fifty years after an unspecified war reduced a fictional kingdom to sand, Sand Land narrates a tale of hope, coexistence, and reconstruction. What starts as a simple quest to secure a reliable water source evolves into deeper explorations of redemption, the ethics of war, morality, and the nature of good and evil.

Admittedly, Sand Land doesn’t delve profoundly into these themes, but it suffices. Much like Dragon Ball Z, where moral messages often served as plot devices, Sand Land’s narrative primarily propels players toward confronting adversaries rather than philosophical musings.

Sand Land’s Characters

The vehicles in Sand Land possess character-like qualities.
Credit: Bandai Namco/Steam

The heart of Sand Land lies in its characters. What’s intriguing is that the hero of this story isn’t who you’d typically expect.

Players assume the role of Beelzebub, the demon prince and son of Lucifer. Angels and demons roam the world, engaging in their distinct activities within a human-ruled realm devastated by conflict. This twist on the typical post-apocalyptic setting introduces players to a colorful array of demon designs, including a scythe-wielding, talking ferret.

Accompanying Beelzebub on his journey are his demon friend Thief and an elderly human sheriff named Rao, each with their own enigmatic backgrounds. Their ranks later swell with the addition of Ann, a skilled mechanic specializing in vehicle maintenance.

Beelzebub’s charm lies in his reluctance to perform altruistic deeds, a trait uncommon for a protagonist. Over the course of the game, players witness his gradual evolution as he reluctantly embraces the concept of benevolence. Despite his demon heritage, Beelzebub’s inherent goodness shines through, albeit cloaked in a facade of mischief.

Sand Land’s Mechanics

Sand Land offers players diverse vehicle customization options.
Credit: Bandai Namco/Steam

While Sand Land’s open-world design may not claim accolades, it offers enough substance to surpass mundane experiences like Rise of the Ronin.

The game’s core gameplay revolves around action sequences featuring whimsical anime-inspired vehicles. As players progress and unlock the garage feature, they’re encouraged to craft eccentric vehicles to navigate the game’s harsh terrain. Initially limited to basic tanks, the roster expands to include hovercraft, motorcycles, bipedal jump-bots, and humanoid battle-mechs.

Constructing vehicles necessitates acquiring frames, blueprints, and parts through various means, including exploration, combat, and quests. While the game heavily emphasizes crafting, players can opt for a more streamlined experience by utilizing pre-existing options.

Vehicular combat proves enjoyable, offering diverse encounters across the game’s landscapes. However, on-foot sections, where players control Beelzebub directly, suffer from lackluster combat mechanics. Despite responsive movement and platforming, combat encounters on foot often feel tedious.

Additionally, Sand Land features a central hub town, Spino, which evolves as players progress. Completing quests enhances Spino’s aesthetics and unlocks new facilities, providing a sense of accomplishment and encouraging exploration.

Sand Land’s Visuals

Sand Land’s visuals pay homage to Toriyama’s iconic art style.
Credit: Bandai Namco/Steam

Toriyama’s distinctive art style translates seamlessly into Sand Land’s 3D world. The game boasts vibrant environments, attractive vistas, and character designs faithful to Toriyama’s legacy.

Vehicles, ranging from tanks to robots, embody Toriyama’s penchant for whimsical designs, contributing to the game’s charm. Sand Land serves as a loving homage to Toriyama’s creativity, allowing players to craft and customize their own quirky vehicles.

Sand Land’s Audio

Sand Land’s soundtrack complements the gameplay without being particularly memorable. Acoustic guitar melodies and atmospheric tunes enhance the game’s mood, although they may not linger in players’ minds beyond gameplay sessions.

Voice acting, akin to English anime dubs, effectively conveys the game’s characters, albeit with varying degrees of success. While some players may appreciate Beelzebub’s boisterous portrayal, others may find it grating.

Sand Land’s Challenge and Difficulty

Sand Land offers a moderate challenge on its default difficulty setting. Players can easily navigate encounters by upgrading their vehicles and stocking up on healing items, minimizing the game’s difficulty curve.

Despite the game’s nuances in vehicular combat, it underutilizes certain mechanics, missing opportunities for deeper engagement. However, the game’s central hub town offers a compelling incentive for completing quests, driving players to explore its evolving landscape.

Sand Land’s Performance

The PlayStation 5 version of Sand Land delivers smooth performance, maintaining a consistent 60 frames per second with minimal dips in frame rate during intense sequences. Load times are near-instantaneous, enhancing the overall experience.

Is Sand Land Worth It?

Ultimately, Sand Land’s appeal hinges on players’ affinity for Toriyama’s work. As a Dragon Ball enthusiast, I found Sand Land to be a nostalgic journey into Toriyama’s imaginative world.

Toriyama’s trademark humor, exaggerated battles, and endearing character designs resonate throughout the game, serving as a fitting tribute to his legacy. If you appreciate Toriyama’s distinct style and thematic elements, Sand Land offers an enjoyable experience.


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