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SAND LAND
Platform: PlayStation 5
70

Sand Land Review

A relentless dust devil

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The imprint Akira Toriyama had on the manga industry is undeniable. He initially rose to fame with the comedic series Dr. Slump, but his renown skyrocketed when he created Dragon Ball Z, arguably one of the most influential anime series of all time. Even if you're not the most familiar with anime/manga, chances are you've seen Goku's iconic orange martial arts outfit and the golden super saiyan spikey hair at a Halloween gathering. To say his works were not only admired across the world but also transcended generations would be an understatement.

Sand Land game

Akira Toriyama also created several one-shot series that didn't get much recognition, one of them being the underrated Sand Land. The series was published in Shonen Jump in 2000 with only fourteen chapters, concluding with a cohesive ending. That is all we had from the IP until a year ago. Last year, the series was enigmatically revived with several projects, including an anime movie, series and a video game. As the Sand Land game was one of the last projects that the legendary Akira Toriyama had any involvement with before his passing, it's bound to garner more attention than its first debut back in the day. This title is highly unlikely to have the same impact as some of his other works, but it showcases Akira Toriyama's fantastic world-building in full swing. However, the gameplay lacks complexity, which will lose some people's attention, even if the game features tank warfare.

The premise channels the ambience of movies like Mad Max and Steel Dawn but with the charismatic charm of a cartoon adventure. Sand Land is an unforgivable and savage desert wasteland created as a result of a series of natural disasters and continuous wars. Both demons and humans are plagued equally by the scorching sun. Because of this, water has become one of the most expensive commodities, with the greedy King's army hijacking what little water is available for themselves. One day, a human Sheriff called Rao sees a water finch, giving him hope that it may show the way to the legendary spring. With limited options available, Rao travels to the demon village to ask for their help. After some mediation, they decide that the prince of the fiends, Beelzebub, and the demon elder Thief will accompany him on his quest to find the elusive water source.

For most of the single-player campaign, you predominantly play as Beelzebub and see the events that transpire from his perspective. As the son of Lucifer, you would expect Beelzebub to be depicted as a heinous creature, but he is more of a troublemaker and is fundamentally against killing humans, just wanting to stay up late and play retro video games which have survived the disasters. If anything, Rao, an old war veteran, could be argued as more morally corrupt even though he has good intentions behind his actions. Sand Land is clearly more aimed at teenagers and young adults, but the plot surprisingly treads into moral themes like land ethics and consequentialism, which is definitely interesting to see.

Sand Land game

Sand Land takes a leaf from the gameplay structure of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, as it spins multiple plates of different genres. You have the free-roaming aspect, where you traverse through the post-apocalyptic world; battling mechanics resembling a brawler title; and vehicle-fighting, emulating World of Tanks gameplay. This amalgamation of genres blends nicely into one another, but it never delves too deep into any of the three.

The combat is very simplistic, as you have weak and strong attacks to strike an enemy and evade incoming aggression. Beelzebub can also harness the Power of Darkness, permitting him to unleash a special attack. Every time you inflict or take damage, the Power of Darkness meter will go up, and when this bar is complete, you can access the short-cut wheel to let loose a mighty attack. The battling mechanics are not too intrinsically deep here, which can lead to repetitive behaviour after a while. After you unlock the battle vehicles, you will rarely find yourself using the combat system, as these attacks feel so weak in comparison. This is a letdown, as it would have enhanced the experience if it had more emphasis on the combat system.

Vehicle combat is the main attraction for the action. The first vehicle you gain access to is the well-known 104 tank from the series. The controls are straightforward; you can shoot and reload with a simple button press, allowing you to miss the target without too many consequences. When you reach a certain point in the story, you can alter the vehicle's loadout, including equipping different types of weapons, which can change how the tank operates. For instance, a 75 mm armour-piercing cannon will deal more damage on impact but will shoot very slowly than a 12 mm heavy machine gun, which will fire shots at quick accession.

Initially, shooting a massive raptor in the face or a delinquent bandit group riding buggies is fun, but these actions can get a bit pedestrian in the long term. You can unlock other vehicles later down the line, like a motorcycle or a machine that specialises in hand-to-hand combat, and although this delivers some desperately needed diversity to the fighting, it inevitably falls victim to the same drawbacks of the tank after a while; it is not engaging enough. If you want an induced kick of mechanic action, you would be better off putting on the TV show Robot Wars.

Sand Land game

If a lot of this sounds easy, that's because it is, as Sand Land falls into the same pitfalls as other ILCA titles, such as One Piece Odyssey and Pokemon Brillant Diamond, for its absurdly easy gameplay. You can toggle between three difficulty levels, but even the hardest mode will not provide a riveting challenge. Even though it's nice that the easiest gameplay mode allows for a leisurely pace and enjoyment of the story, it would have been nice if the toughest setting was more demanding.

A few RPG elements are hidden within the gameplay, the main one being a skill tree for your characters. When you level up, Beelzebub and his friends gain an SP, which can be used to unlock active and passive skills. Some of them are very bog-standard stuff you would expect to see, like improving your strong attack. Others can be rather helpful, with one in particular that stood out was an active skill that Theif can unlock, which will draw items around the immediate area towards you. Sometimes, you cannot progress further into the story until you have made certain items for your vehicle, so this can be massively beneficial when trying to grind resource materials.

Apart from the main story, there are a few side-quests. A big one that will easily eat up a lot of your time is helping out the desolate town of Spino, which is a shell of its former self. By helping people with requests across the open world, you can convince them to join the village, which in turn leads to the town prospering. You can even build a base camp within the town at a certain point and add trinkets into the room, like a bookcase and a retro jukebox. It's nothing too elaborate, but it's a cool add-on. The best side quest, however, is partaking in bounty hunts. Basically, you take on giant bosses in exchange for a big reward – it's a great way to grind for experience and an excuse to get the vehicles out.

Traversing the landscape can feel very bland at times, and this is not because of the limitations of the desert terrain; if anything, they have not capitalised on the unique setting enough. The caves you come across during your travels could have been an excellent opportunity to create some exciting and suspenseful moments, but they are rudimentary and relatively small, which will barely last for a handful of minutes.

Sand Land game

One of the most striking aspects of Sand Land is how the cel-shaded aesthetic really brings Akira Toriyama's world to life. The cel-shaded designs are implemented so well that you can tell that the blistering sun is truly relentless and even gives an old-school Dragon Ball vibe to some of the creatures and characters you meet. It also compliments many of the vehicle designs, as the emphasised black lines give them a slick look, so when you play, you feel transported to a comic-book strip.

The game is heavily cutscene-based, and even if you are not acquainted with the source material, you can easily follow along with the story and the events. However, some story events diverge from the anime, like a character called Ann, a talented gearhead mechanic, is introduced way sooner in the video game adaptation, which benefits not only the story's pacing but also makes sense when it comes to the gameplay mechanics, as she's the character who can upgrade your tank. The story-telling also adds minor details, which enriches the experience. At one point, Theif sneaks into the town of Tablo to steal resources. In the anime, this happens off-screen, and you never actually see Theif enter the village, whereas, in the game, you briefly play as Theif as you creep around the town taking the food, which is a hilarious segment.

The video game adaptation of Sand Land brings one of Akira Toriyama's lesser-known works to the forefront and is perhaps the best way to consume this story, unless you're going to read the original manga works. But just like Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, even though it depicts the source material well and expands the narrative, the gameplay can sometimes lack depth and, after a few hours, can become repetitive. That said, the vehicle fights can be good mindless fun, even if they lean on the spamming side. Sand Land will undoubtedly appeal to fans of Akira Toriyama, and even casual anime fans will have a decent time here during its 25-30 hour run time.

Our ratings for Sand Land on PlayStation 5 out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Presentation
78
The cel-shaded graphics really complement the world of Sand Land, and the vehicles are well-designed.
Gameplay
55
Sand Land dips its toe into numerous genres but never expands itself too deeply into any of them to create memorable gameplay.
Single Player
80
The narrative is fantastic, and it subtly changes and expands things in the story to fit the video game adaptation better.
Multiplayer
NR
None
Performance
90
No performance issues were observed.
Overall
70
The video game adaptation of Sand Land brings one of Akira Toriyama's lesser-known works into the spotlight. It follows the source material well and cleverly expands on the story, but the gameplay is lacking.
Comments
Sand Land
Sand Land box art Platform:
PlayStation 5
Our Review of Sand Land
70%
Good
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Sand Land is ranked #1301 out of 1980 total reviewed games. It is ranked #20 out of 34 games reviewed in 2024.
1300. SteamWorld Build
PC
1301. Sand Land
1302. Tell Me Why
PC
Screenshots

Sand Land
10 images added 29 days ago
Videos
Sand Land - Sandstorm Trailer
Posted: 40 days ago
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