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Sand Land

Sand Land

Written by Elliot Hilderbrand on 4/24/2024 for PS5  
More On: Sand Land

If a game jumps out at me, I’ll do a little research. I'll read up about the title when it’s releasing, who makes it, and what else they have done—the normal everyman kind of research. Sometimes I’ll request a chance to review the game, and that’s that. Not much to the process for me. I see something, I do a little digging, and I either take the dive or don’t. Sand Land was a little different. Sand Land began as a Japanese manga created by Akira Toriyama. Now, that name means more to me than many folks. This is the man who created Dragon Ball. Talk about a cultural touchstone for me. I would rush home to watch Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z after school, making sure not to be the one person at lunch the next day who didn’t watch. Toriyama is also responsible for a lot of character designs for the Dragon Quest franchise. Iconic doesn’t begin to describe him. Sadly, Toriyama recently passed, cementing my need to review Sand Land.

On the surface, Sand Land looks very straightforward. The manga was only one volume in length, something you can read in an evening, which I did. I quickly learned that Sand Land is not an up-and-coming franchise. The franchise is here; get on board. On top of the manga, and now video game, Sand Land has a full 11-episode series on Hulu/Disney+. Sand Land has managed to evolve in the last 24 years from a manga to a full-fledged video game and anime adaptation without much of a peep being heard, at least by me. I love that I can now immerse myself in this world, and for two weeks, I have done just that. I began with the manga and slowly started going through the anime series while still playing Sand Land in my evenings. Overall I have enjoyed my time with Sand Land, even if it doesn't feel like a world shifting story, or game; I'm having fun with it all, and just having fun is good too.

Sand Land has managed to stay true to its roots on all fronts, something I admire. Obviously, the manga is the source material, so staying true isn’t an issue. I feel like the anime has taken the most liberty with the material, there are only 13 chapters to the story, and over the course of 11 episodes, about half hour each, I can see why there would be some added content to the anime. Honestly, I thought the game would try and find more ways to deviate from the core story, but it stays pretty close. There are some differences, especially further into the game, but I was surprised by how true to form it stayed. I also enjoyed how the developer was able to make it feel like it came right from the manga or even anime. The style in all three is a little different, the anime feels more modern in its looks and feel, but still gives off some nostalgia vibes- I think that’s just Akira Toriyama’s style being so prevalent when I was young. Sand Land, on my PS5, looks like a split between the more modern anime look and the old-school manga that was released in 2000. Wow, we’re saying 2000 was a while ago.

Sand Land takes place years and years after a natural disaster and war have taken this land and turned it into, well, sand. It’s a desert in every direction. Water has become the most sought-after resource by both humans and demons. Rao, a human sheriff in a nearby town has sought out the demon enclave, looking for partners in an attempt to find a rumored fresh spring of water. The tyrannical king has a monopoly on the current water supply, forcing the demons to take up arms in a gorilla warfare style of hit-and-runs on water transporters. The young demon Beelzebub and his old, Santa-looking demon friend Theif join Rao in the search. Hijinks ensue.

Okay, a lot of talk about Sand Land as a franchise. What kind of game is Sand Land? Well, that one is a little complicated too. Sand Land fits the mold of several genres. It is action-RPG. You mainly play as the demon Beelzebub. You take on monsters roaming Sand Land, leveling up as you do. The next element is the stealth gameplay. Usually, as Thief, you need to sneak your way around a village for supplies, or as Beelzebub sneaking into a military base to steal a vehicle. While Sand Land has three different difficulty modes, I found myself playing on the easiest and still struggling at times with the stealth parts of Sand Land. I’m not sure if my struggle was me just not understanding how to get sneaky, or it was just that challenging to make it through without being caught. With the exception of the first tutorial sneak mission I was caught at least once every time. Thankfully, I was snot punished for frequently being seen. Instead, you are taken back sometimes a few seconds before you were caught, other times it’s about a minute earlier. Even being bad wasn’t too disastrous of an experience.

But the biggest part of Sand Land is the vehicle combat. Early on you can control of a tank, using it as one of your main modes of transportation. The tank functions a lot like how you think. You can fire rockets and use a machine gun. Eventually, you can get into more of an exosuit mech-style tank, as well as other vehicles, like a motorcycle, to help with staying ahead of the pack, or doing some reconnaissance before taking action. I sometimes struggle to get into vehicle-driven games. It might have been how easily I got a handle on the controls that Sand Land surprised me on this front.

The other smaller elements that make up Sand Land feel very standard, but still solid. There is nothing crazy about leveling up, or the tech tree you have for you and your companions. Both your main companions, Rao and Theif, have level tress too. When you evel up you decide which of the two will spend the level up point, and points can go into one of two categories, besides choosing to level Rao, who is more combat-oriented, or Theif, who is more crafting-minded, you also decide if you want them to gain an active or passive skill. Most passive skills are something you the player will control during combat, passive ones typically have to do with other, non-combat, aspects of the game. Crafting and upgrading is another part. You can craft to upgrade, you can craft to aesthetically improve your vehicles, you can upgrade to new vehicles like motorcycles and exo-suit bots. You also work on upgrading the town to have additional shop vendors.

Normally I wouldn’t spend time on such a little item as a mini-map. But, I found Sand Land to utilize the mini-map better than just about anyone. I found the mini-map in Sand Lands to be one of the best. There is just the right amount of detail shown on the map to be useful but not overbearing. There is enough detail to show your line of sight when sneaking around to make it worthwhile. Typically, a mini-map is of little to no use for me, they’re too small to be helpful. I find myself using a min-map a few times in a game, but Sand Land’s map was used constantly. In the middle of a vehicle battle knowing which direction to go to can be challenging.

Sand Land’s Story isn’t anything mind-blowing. It doesn’t need to be, it’s fun. Sand Land stays true to its manga origins while still being its own worthwhile investment. Don't be fooled by the simple story of finding water in a desert – Sand Land throws action RPG, intense vehicle combat, and stealth missions your way. When you have a story with a simple premise, the surprises mostly come from the gameplay. I was surprised by how many different genres Sand Land fit into itself. I can play a beat-em-up action RPG, a vehicle upgrading, most shooting, treasure hunter, or a quiet, sneaking, sly thief stealing water from the evil military. All of this while still maintaining the look and feel of not only the manga Sand Land is based on, but also the anime that has come out since.

Sand Land immediately caught my attention due to its ties to Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball and character designs in the Dragon Quest series. With a manga, anime, and now a video game adaptation, Sand Land has quietly become a full-fledged franchise, seemingly over night. Despite its simple premise—a search for water in a desert wasteland—Sand Land offers a mix of action RPG, vehicle combat, and stealth gameplay that’s just plain fun. The game stays faithful to its source material while offering surprising depth and variety in gameplay mechanics. Despite some challenges with the stealth sections, Sand Land provides a fun and engaging experience and retains the nostalgic charm of its origins in Toriyama's work.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I'm pulled towards anything that isn't driving or sports related; having said that, I love a good kart racer. I Can't get enough RPGs, and indies are always worth a look to me. The only other subject I pay any attention to is the NFL (go Colts!).

While writing about games is my favorite hobby, talking is a close second. That's why I podcast with my wife Tessa (it's called Tessa and Elliot Argue).

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