To make sure you never miss out on your favourite NEW stories, we're happy to send you some reminders

Click 'OK' then 'Allow' to enable notifications

Sand Land review: An oasis in a desert of manga and anime adaptions

Sand Land review: An oasis in a desert of manga and anime adaptions

Sand Land is a drop-dead gorgeous adaptation of the late Akira Toriyama's most underrated work, and a must-play for anime and manga fans.

Sand Land is a video game based on the Japanese manga of the same name, originally created by the late and great Akira Toriyama, father of Dragon Ball.

As some of Toriyama’s last work, playing this game hit different as his style and storytelling shines throughout like the desert sun. While Sand Land is a little coarse and rough around the edges, like sand, it’s a fine adaptation that shows off the beauty, themes, and sense of adventure of one of Toriyama’s most-underrated works.

Check out the trailer for Sand Land below.

So, what is Sand Land about? The story itself is pretty simple, as it’s one-to-one with the original manga and the recent anime adaptation on Disney+.

The region of Sand Land is a vast desert world that’s fighting for its life after the land’s water supply seemingly disappeared into thin air. Now, water is a commodity sold at extortionate prices by the government. It’s not just humans who are struggling though, a race of demons called fiends are also being affected by the lack of water, which leads one of Sand Land’s sheriffs, Rao, to form an unlikely alliance with the fiends on a mission to quench the population’s thirst.

Beelzebub, the Demon Prince, agrees to help Rao look for the Legendary Spring, a mythical place that Rao is certain exists somewhere in the desert, it just needs to be uncovered. The pair are joined by Beelzebub’s assistant, Thief, and eventually a mysterious, mechanically gifted girl called Ann on their journey.

However it’s not just the story of the Sand Land manga that plays out in the game, as once you’ve completed your quest and returned water to Sand Land, you’ll embark on a whole new adventure in the bordering country of Forest Land, to uncover the secrets of Ann and face a new threat altogether.

Sand Land-
Bandai Namco

While we could talk all day about the story, let’s dive into the real bread and butter of Sand Land: its gorgeous world and how you traverse it.

Putting it lightly, Sand Land is absolutely stunning, potentially one of the best-looking anime games I’ve ever laid eyes on. I think we have Akira Toriyama’s standout art style to thank for that, which has been lovingly recreated in 3D form. Staring out at the vast desert with the distance obscured by those wavy mirage lines does a fantastic job of showing the player just how much ground they have to cover. This is only improved by the drastic change in colour palette when the sun sets, transforming the fiery orange glow into a cool, refreshing blue come nightfall.

However, the most drastic change comes part way through the game, when you pack your bags and embark on a brand-new adventure to Forest Land. The game swaps the harsh, horizontal desert landscape in favour of verticality, with a sprawling woodland area filled with flora and fauna. It’s quite the juxtaposition, especially since Sand Land is devoid of water whereas in Forest Land there’s an abundance of it with lakes, streams, and waterfalls aplenty.

It all looks fantastic, and when the world looks as good as it does, it’s just begging to be explored which is where the vehicles come into play.

Over the course of the story, Beelzebub and his friends will acquire a fleet of vehicles, each with their own weapons and abilities. They range from the tank you start off with to motorbikes, hovercrafts, and even a mech suit. While they all control in the same general way, they each have their individual uses. The tank is ol’ reliable. It’s big, sturdy, and packs a punch making it the ideal choice for any and all confrontations. The motorbike, on the other hand, is quick and nimble, but pretty hard to use in combat as aiming while zooming can be tricky.

Sand Land-
Bandai Namco

Combat felt engaging and exciting, becoming an elaborate dance of dodging and firing off your own shots when you have the chance. Reloading also takes time meaning you have to be selective with your reloads and weapon switching so you’re not left defenceless. Combat was at its best when the odds were significantly stacked against you, though you could always turn the tide of battle with an ability, like having Rao hop into his own tank to provide you with support. More abilities can be unlocked as you level that change the effectiveness of your vehicles as well as Beelzebub’s own abilities.

Mastering these vehicles and learning their functionalities is a huge part of the game, which would add a lot of strategy and enjoyment to the game if it weren’t completely unnecessary.

There’s a theory in gaming called the Nash equilibrium, and it’s the idea that the player will always favour the strategy that gets them the most results with as little resistance as possible. In Sand Land, that strategy is the tank. While it’s not as speedy as the other vehicles in the selection, it’s the undisputed king of confrontation regardless of what you’re fighting, meaning I always picked it even when the game tried to encourage me not to. The best example I can give is a boss battle in a circular room, with an enemy on a powerful motorcycle. I was encouraged to switch to my own bike and chase them around the room as I whittled down their health bar, but why should I when it was easier to sit in the middle with the tank and fire potshots at them as they sped past?

While it was still good fun to blast people with a hovercraft or stomp on them with a robo-walker, it was the tank that carried me through the game, so it would have been nice to see some enemy types that directly hindered its usefulness to encourage me to switch up my playstyle.

Sand Land-
Bandai Namco

This fed directly into the vehicle customisation too. At your home base of Spino, the player can customise their rides in a variety of different ways. You can stick new guns on them, give them special abilities like missile barrages, enhance their armour, speed, and more. Eventually you unlock the ability to paint them and slap on some stylish decals, but not until the end of the game where all you’ve got left to do is mop up the, unfortunately dull, side quests.

Customising vehicles felt fun and wasn’t boiled down to just a numbers game as some weapons would do more damage but at the cost of fire-rate or ammo capacity. Unfortunately, the Nash equilibrium strikes again though, as I often found myself pouring all of my zeni (the in-game currency) and upgrading materials into the tank rather than anything else. Resources, while plentiful, require exploring nearby caves and camps, fighting powerful field enemies, and looting supply boxes, so why waste them on upgrades for the robo-walker’s gun when I wasn’t planning on using it?

Another good source of materials and cash are the side quests, though they’re definitely one of the weaker parts of the game. First are the standard side quests that usually see the player help out someone in need, which more often than not means fetching them an item, clearing out a horde of enemies, or speaking to someone on their behalf, sometimes all three. Then there are bounties which were actually quite fun as you’d need to track down your target and dispatch them to reap the rewards, though depending on your current level, that could be much easier said than done. Then you’ve got races, which were perfectly fine but don’t expect Mario Kart levels of polish.

While they offered a decent break in-between main story missions, more often than not I sought out and played these side quests if I was missing any resources or money needed to advance the storyline, as when you’re tasked with adding a new vehicle to your fleet you usually have to craft the parts and pay to have the thing put together by a mechanic, and then, of course, upgrade it.

Sand Land-
Bandai Namco

Towards the end of the game, I felt satisfied with Sand Land. As someone who enjoyed the manga and the Disney+ series, I found it to be an admirable adaptation of its fantastic story, and being put into the driving seat of the tank and all the other vehicles was still good fun, even towards the end of the game.

Player exploration is actively encouraged by a gorgeously animated world that’s filled with sights and sounds to keep you engaged, even having that Zelda: Breath Of The Wild feel of ‘Hey, what’s that over there?’ as you get side-tracked for the umpteenth time. While I wish it would have baked its ideas for a little longer under the desert sun, I’d happily recommend this to any and all anime fans, especially those who love the work of Akira Toriyama.

Pros: Stunning open world, compelling story, traversal and vehicle combat feels fun and engaging

Cons: Side content leaves much to be desired, doesn’t give you reason to switch-up your strategies/playstyle

For fans of: Dragon Ball, Anime games

8/10: Excellent

Sand Land is available on PlayStation 5 (version tested), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Bandai Namco

Topics: Anime, Bandai Namco, Xbox, PC, PlayStation, Reviews