‘Sand Land’ first impressions: An Akira Toriyama manga, brought to life

Switching between assault vehicles and melee combat is fun, if simple.

Bandai Namco

Bandai Namco knows what to do when it turns anime or manga series into video games. Revealed at Summer Game Fest last week, Sand Land is the latest addition, with a big punchy poster on the show floor in Los Angeles, conveniently right next to an established hitmaker for the publisher, its Naruto (now Boruto) Ultimate Storm fighting series.

Sand Land, though? You may never have heard of it, but don’t let that put you off, because it’s a 2000s comic penned by legendary manga artist, Akira Toriyama. Yes, Dragon Ball creator, Akira Toriyama. The man who created the character designs for Chrono Trigger, Blue Dragon and the Dragon Quest series. And Toriyama’s creations have never looked better.

Sand Land is an action-adventure game where you’ll play as the rambunctious prince of the Devil, capital ‘d’, Beelzebub, as he explores a desert-themed world where water is a rare and costly resource. Demons and humans coexist in this world, with the human Sheriff Rao and the demon Thief accompanying Beelzebub on his adventure to solve the water crisis.

At SGF 2023 last week, I played a 15-minute demo that showcased a few parts of the game, including melee combat, exploration and two vehicles: a tank and, er, a golf cart. The demo kicked off with the trio fleeing a desert dragon, and after having steered the cart away from relentless attacks, the gang eventually had to cast off their supplies of water to escape.

Apparently, this is a beat-for-beat replication of how Sand Land plays out in the manga, and you can expect the game to follow the same storyline beats. That’s sometimes frustrating for games where you already know the story. For example, I know who dies in Dragon Ball’s Frieza saga, so it’s not a surprise when it happens in one of the several Dragon Ball video games. With Sand Land, however, many of us will be hearing the tale for the first time.

During my demo, the game split into two play styles. You’ll explore the desert, outposts, and towns with your vehicles but also set out on foot when you need to brawl with someone or interact with things appropriately. Bandai Namco has teased that you can customize vehicles within the game, adding different weaponry and components to improve performance or offer tactical advantages. I loved using the armor-piercing rounds. Sure, they had a low fire rate, but they obliterated almost anything. Vehicle controls are simple enough but vary depending on the type and whether they feature weapons or not. Don’t forget: my first Sand Land vehicle was a golf cart. There was no artillery option.

Sand Land
Bandai Namco

When not rolling around in a tank (which can be repaired if it takes damage), Beelzebub himself can go toe-to-toe with enemies in melee combat. He has a mix of weak attacks, dodge rolls and super attacks that will charge up as you battle enemies. If it sounds a bit… simple, well, it is. Bandai Namco isn’t reinventing the wheel here. More moves and support characters could help deepen the combat sections, so I’ll hold judgment for now, but it’s also worth remembering that this game is likely aimed at gamers younger than I. You will only ever control Beelzebub himself, but both of his aforementioned companions will eventually be able to assist in fights, although this wasn’t apparent in my demo.

The highlight of this early demo was confronting a gang of bandits. They gave off a mild Ginew Force vibe, which I wasn’t mad about. Each wielded different weapons and attacked differently, offering a nice opportunity to test out little devil’s combos, sending enemies high with a punch, only to jump up and slam them back to the ground.

Ensuring even these secondary characters are interesting is proof that, hopefully, the developers are ensuring Toriyama’s characters, and his offbeat humor and charm, make it onto consoles.

While there are some questionable lip-sync moments (at this point, all the voiceovers are Japanese), this generation of consoles and PCs offer more than enough power to replicate Toriyama’s detailed drawings. I gawped at the tank during my playthrough just because it looked so good. Imagine how long I’d stare at a tank I customized myself.

Sand Land will launch on PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC.

Catch up on all of the news from Summer Game Fest right here!