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GG logo First Impressions

SAND LAND Preview

Pros

  • Excellent vehicle customization
  • Fantastic representation of Akira Toriyama's style
  • Forest Land is a nice distraction to the desert environment

Cons

  • Generic open world
  • Basic hand-to-hand combat
  • Framerate struggles during intense battles

The legendary Akira Toriyama touched so many lives with his creations throughout his lifetime, chiefly the Dragon Ball series, but also classics franchises such as Chrono Trigger and Dragon Quest. If you’re a fan of Japanese culture, it’s almost impossible not to respect what he has achieved. So, it was with great sadness that he passed away this past March, leaving behind a legacy that will no doubt ring on for generations to come.

SAND LAND is one of the lesser-known Akira Toriyama IPs, it was a manga, released back in November 2000, that went under many people’s radar. Set against the backdrop of a dystopian, war-ridden world, the story follows protagonists Beelzebub, (a demon), Sheriff Rao, (a human), their partner in arms, Thief, (a fellow demon). It’s not long before they meet up with Ann, a newcomer to the SAND LAND universe and this quartet of strange friends continues their search for the legendary spring hidden in this harsh world, where both demons and humans attempt to survive despite a water shortage.

Gamer Guides was to be invited to the SAND LAND preview event, and as part of it, we were treated to an exclusive screening of the movie. This was intended to set the scene for the game we’d go hands-on later and as someone who isn’t well informed on the manga, this was a great first introduction to it. I found myself instantly endeared to the Fiend Prince, Beelzebub, and it got me itching to check out the upcoming game, ahead of its April 25 release.

Beelzebub and his allies are set for a grand adventure in SAND LAND (Image via Bandai Namco)

Sand Land, naturally, treads very similar beats to its recent movie adaptation, using dialogue pulled straight from the film itself. It was nice to recognize familiar events, while blending them into new and intriguing scenes from the new game itself. If you’re a fan of the original, you should get a nice mix of adapted content and brand new, original moments (especially in the form of Forest Land).

If you’re a fan of previous Bandai Namco anime-style games, you’ll know what to expect from a visual standpoint. Sand Land does a fantastic job of recreating Akira Toriyama’s striking, unmistakable art style, with gorgeous character models being the standout feature. The world of Sand Land itself, by its very nature, suffers from being rather bland, because there’s only so much you can do with miles upon miles of harsh, treacherous desert. Fortunately, there are moments where the team venture into underground ruins, while the aforementioned Forest Land district showcases the game’s environment in a much better light. And, as Sand Land is a title that focuses heavily on its vehicles, you’ll often find yourself zooming around between points of interest.

Having the opportunity to steer clear of the desert (odd I know, for a game named Sand Land) to take in lush forests and spacious plains of Forest Land is a welcome sight, loaded with unqiue points of interest. It’s also here where Sand Land’s story becomes a lot more intricate - especially if you already know the key narrative points of the source material.

(1 of 2) The dungeons use of your various vehicles to solve their puzzles (Image via Bandai Namco).

The dungeons use of your various vehicles to solve their puzzles (Image via Bandai Namco). (left), Forest Land is a feast for the eyes (Image via Bandai Namco) (right)

At its heart, Sand Land is an Action-RPG, and although you can jump out of the vehicles to duke it out with bandits and scorpions, or explore the terrain on foot, it’s clear to see that it’s secondary to piloting the various crafts you’ll obtain. While controlling Beelzebub directly, you can utilize a dodge roll to avoid most incoming attacks, while his Darkness Skills allow him to unleash flashier attacks. As you level up, you will gain points that can be assigned various skill trees. You’ll find a dedicated tree for Beelzebub, while a combined “Aliies” tree adds abilities that will allow party members to help in both ground and vehicle-based combat.

We were also treated to some brief stealth sequences and, like many games where it’s not the main focus, we were happy to get them over with as soon as possible. Although the game makes good use of the theme of water being precious – you’ll use water to restore your health – Sand Land seems to be at its best when you’re in the vehicles and out on the dunes.

As any fan of Sand Land will be aware, the vehicles are a key component in the story’s identity. This is also cleanly reflected in video game adaptation, as it’s the vehicular combat that shined brightest during our time with the preview. You’ll get access to multiple vehicle types throughout the adventure, with near-instantaneous switching via an in-game wheel. The variety offered opens up a degree of strategy in battle, as you change between vehicles as best suited to the fight. In the preview, we experienced a large-scale battle betweens several battalions of tanks - and working out the best, most efficient vehicle for the job was exciting. Should your own tank get destroyed, however, it’s Game Over.

Keeping with its vehicular theme, Sand Land offers customization for your hanger of tanks, hovercars, and other dune-clearers. Each vehicle is fully customizable, with Sand Land using a typical rarity system found in most loot-based games - including the option to give certain vehicles different weaponry altogether. Additionally, you’re able to fully paint your vehicle in different colors and designs which will give the player a lot of ownership with them. Everything relating to the vehicles, be it the customization, exploration, or the painting, was arguably my favorite part of the preview, although it was a little disappointing to notice the framerate dropping frequently during intense vehicle battles as this is arguably Sand Land’s strongest point. Hopefully, this issue can be further optimized before release.

There is a lot of loot you can find to upgrade every part of your vehicles (Image via Bandai Namco)

The vehicles are not just for combat either, as you can use them for open world exploration and each one has its own benefit to Beelzebub and his crew. While you may use the bike to get across the vast stretches of desert in speedier fashion, you’ll need to utilize the Hovercar to traverse over water or quicksand. The Jump-bot allows you to reach higher elevations that would otherwise be inaccessible, while the powerful cannons of the battle tank can blast through weak walls and other obstacles.

The need for unique vehicular abilities was best demonstrated in the dungeon that we were given access to - the Cardamo Ruins. This flooded dungeon required use of the hover car in order to access controls that would raise and lower the water level. The sequence culminated in a boss fight that required us to carefully position ourselves to take out the large beast. If there are more moments like this in SAND LAND, it’ll go a long way to making us want to seek out every hidden dungeon that may be lurking in the desert and beyond.

When not venturing in the open-world, Beelzebub and Co. return to the base camp of Spino, which will itself upgrade its facilities as the story continues. What especially drew our attention to Spino, though, was a room that is gifted exclusively to Beelzebub that can be fully customized with furniture gathered while on this epic journey. As someone who can’t resist the lure of base-building, (or room-decorating), this is likely to be an area of the game I’m sure to spend a lot of time in.

From our short time with this build of Sand Land, our thoughts are promising, with caveats. The dungeon exploration, vehicular combat, and customization options has us excited for more, but the lackluster open world is a cause for concern. If there’s one thing clear, it’s that this adaptation will be faithful to its source material which, for Sand Land fans, is nothing less than you can ask for.

SAND LAND launches April 26 2024 on PlayStation, PC, and Xbox Series X/S.

*This preview is based on a pre-release build of the game provided by the publisher. *

Final Verdict

Light at the end of the tunnel?

From our short time with this build of Sand Land, our thoughts are promising, with caveats. The dungeon exploration, vehicular combat, and customization options has us excited for more, but the lackluster open world is a cause for concern. If there’s one thing clear, it’s that this adaptation will be faithful to its source material which, for Sand Land fans, is nothing less than you can ask for.

Gameplay:

C+

Sound:

C+

Graphics:

B+

Story:

B
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Editor

Ben has been working at Gamer Guides since 2018. Prior to Gamer Guides, he worked at Piggyback Interactive Ltd for four years working on paperback official strategy guides.
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