sand land beelzebub without shirt smiling pink demon
Screenshot via Twinfinite

Sand Land Review – Akira Toriyama’s Timeless Legacy

A surprisingly touching adventure across the ever expanding sands

Sand Land on PC

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Sand Land is a video game based on one of Akira Toriyama’s short mangas from way back in 2000. Not only did the manga receive this video game treatment, it recently got an anime adaptation that expanded the original story significantly.

This second half was written by Akira Toriyama himself before his unfortunate passing. While I’m a major Toriyama fan and his works have shaped many of my core experiences, going into Sand Land, I had no idea how much he was involved. It’s only recently that I’m learning about the actual origin of the manga. So despite my love for Toriyama-sensei, I don’t think it’s changed how I feel about Sand Land the video game. It’s an excellent game that’s held back by a barren desert of content.

Sand Land follows the story of a country where all the water was wiped out in a war 50 years ago and is now governed by a greedy king and his tyrant general. Sheriff Rao teams up with the demon prince Beelzebub and his trusted sidekick Thief to search for the legendary spring. The story is pretty cookie-cutter for the first half, but the lighthearted style, tone of delivery, and colorful characters along the way had me chuckling a fair bit.

sand land enemies swimmers boss shirtless four buff men in swimsuits
Image Source: Bandai Namco via Twinfinite

That’s not to say the game is completely comedic in its tone. Despite the villains mostly being evil for the sake of being evil, they’re executed in a nice enough way that you feel a genuine dislike for them. Furthermore, the story has some well-executed emotional moments, with characters like Rao doing a lot of the heavy lifting here. I didn’t expect the story to be touching or impactful at any point, but Sand Land manages to surprise you in these departments. Despite hitting an emotional high with the first half, the second half shows up immediately and kicks things up into overdrive for another solid 15-20 hours.

The voice performances are mostly solid across the board too, with a few awkward lines here and there, and the art style is distinctly reminiscent of Akira Toriyama’s work. There’s not much stylizing you can do with just sand, but the character, biome, and enemy designs in the game are pretty distinct. I won’t say that all the designs and locations in Sand Land are breathtaking, as they’re not, but the changes in scenery all feel refreshing.

If you’re a fan of Akira Toriyama’s storytelling and don’t mind the tropes employed, then this is definitely a story you’d enjoy. However, if you’re just looking for a story, you might as well watch the anime or read the manga. So, how does Sand Land differentiate itself and define itself with its gameplay?

sand land beelzebub in front of trees and water
Image Source: Bandai Namco via Twinfinite

The gameplay loop consists of going from point A to point B for a main story quest or side quest and interacting with every possible Point of Interest along the way. You’ll be completing side quests to recruit new people to join Spino and set up shop there. Some of these quests will require choices, but very few stand out in that department. Regardless, the game does a good enough job that it’s compelling to attempt every single side quest available. Exploration also feels amazing when you’re getting new vehicles and heading into completely unknown territory. Sand Land checks all the boxes for a fun open-world adventure, and after the first few hours, its ever-expanding map and upgrades keep drawing you in for more.

Exploration in Sand Land is a joy till it isn’t (more on this later). But for the most part, you’ll enjoy discovering every new enemy type, radio tower, village, and side quest. I regularly found myself going off the beaten path and finding powerful loot in side paths that let me outpace the game’s difficulty. Helping rebuild Spino and watching the town grow gives you a real sense of accomplishment and impact on the world. The map itself is already pretty big when you start out, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger as you progress. If you play just the main story, you’ll miss out on half the content Sand Land has to offer.

The majority of your time will be spent in vehicles, with the occasional hand-to-hand combat section sprinkled in. The vehicles need to be discussed in detail since they’ll be the primary aspect of gameplay. But, before that, I need to gripe a bit about the hand-to-hand combat.

Despite there being a ton of potential for the melee combat in Sand Land, not much is really done with it. You have some basic special abilities and straightforward combos that feel rigid. Your skills unlock two combos with Beelzebub and your companions don’t get any cool melee combat abilities either. That being said, the combat is fairly simple and pretty easy. Melee combat will get the job done, but luckily that’s not where the meat of the content lies.

sand land beelzebub rao and thief making decision for money
Image Source: Bandai Namco via Twinfinite

The vehicular combat is better implemented and feels a lot more fun and engaging. Annihilating hordes of enemies with your various vehicles is great fun. There are around ten different types of vehicles, each with its own distinct purpose and playstyle. Upgrading your vehicles, and finding the parts to upgrade them is extremely satisfying and you’ll find yourself invested in upgrading your favorite vehicles into their strongest versions. You can use the painter and modify your fleet and give it whatever aesthetic you prefer.

Remember when I said melee combat is easy? Well, vehicular combat is also pretty easy if you’re just in Normal mode. Sand Land is not meant to be a challenging or hardcore title, it’s a fun adventure with cool robots and silly characters. However, when we’ve been given the tools to min-max our vehicles, the challenge should feel appropriate as well. The game feels a bit too easy for its own good due to its idea of difficulty being more HP and more Attack rather than unique enemy formations and attacks.

One of Sand Land’s biggest weaknesses is the general lack of diversity of content. While the game gives you several hours of fun for a good while during the start way up till past the midpoint, after a certain point the charm starts fizzling out a bit. What I mean by this is, that despite the map being massive and the potential to include tons of things, 80% of the Points of Interest are the same four to five structures. While these are still satisfying to visit and you’ll always find something useful, it does leave room for more to be desired.

This desire for more is what I want the most from Sand Land. It’s already a very solid game that is well-made and well-executed, but where I see the potential for more, the game abruptly stops. It’s just a bunch of complaining from my end because I felt enamored with the world and wanted more of what the game had let me enjoy earlier. Now I’ll get into the things I wish the game had more of because these would really elevate it to a 10/10 experience for me.

sand land ex chip hunt queen scorpion
Screenshot via Twinfinite

For example, I was excited about exploring ruins and had fun going through about ten of them until I realized there are some 50 of them with more or less the same aesthetics, rewards, and not much in the way of variety. This totally feels like a missed opportunity to fill the world with so much more than what we get.

The same problem applies to many of the new cities you discover. Imagine my shock when I discover places called the Hidden Cliffs Village or the Royal Capital and realize that they have no interactable NPCs or side quests. It’s things like these that really ruin the high expectations the game sets with its great early-game areas and quests. I wish there were more quests to enjoy because Sand Land’s side quests are engaging and fun.

Another example of this includes the enemies you fight in Sand Land. There are a limited amount of enemies in Sand Land and you’ll mostly be facing the same hordes of creatures over and over again no matter where you go. These creatures are all distinct in design and it does feel great to become overpowered enough to quickly deal with them. However, after the initial discovery wears off, these creatures, and even their boss variants kind of just become background noise, existing to be farmed for materials every now and then. Even when the map expands and we get a massive new location to explore, you still just get reskinned versions of older enemies. Despite the lack of enemy variety, the map changes feel fresh and it’s still fun going into brand new areas and territories.

Furthermore, while I did praise the vehicular combat earlier, I’d say it suffers from a similar issue as the rest of the content. None of the new vehicles, with the exception of the Battle Suit, really introduce something new or have unique upgrade paths or mods. It’s generally just rockets and a machine gun with some changes to how mobile you are. While all of these are viable vehicles and you can tweak them to be overpowered, fun, and satisfying, I just wish there were more unique abilities you could attach to them and tinker around a bit more like a mechanic.

That’s why it’s tempting to just stick to a single powerful vehicle for combat. It doesn’t help that there’s a bit of a lag time during vehicle swapping that makes the combat feel less fluid. While I love that they allow you to select your own custom roster of five vehicles you take with you, I don’t appreciate that it means not being able to see the stats of your current parts when making new ones. It feels like a major quality-of-life oversight and makes vehicle upgrading way more cumbersome than it should be. Which is a shame considering I was loving making sure every vehicle and part was upgraded to its maximum possible level at the time. The system is great, it could just use a few quality-of-life tweaks.

Overall, Sand Land is a great game with the recipe to be an amazing open-world title thanks to its solid worldbuilding, gameplay loop, and story. However, this potential is brought down by the lack of overall unique content in the game and it really starts to set in during the final third of the game.

Regardless, if you’re looking to sink your teeth into exploring a brand new world and all it has to offer for some 30-40 hours, then Sand Land is a great choice despite some of its shortcomings. It goes on to show how, despite being more than two decades old, Toriyama’s stories can still provide exciting adventures today.

Sand Land
A lighthearted yet emotional open world adventure with some great exploration and progression held back only by its lack of diversity.
  • Great world building and a story from Akira Toriyama himself
  • Exploration is fun and satisfying
  • Upgrades and progression systems are engaging
  • Can feel repetitive later on
  • Melee combat is undercooked
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PC.

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Syed Hamza Bakht
A freelance journalist passionate about games and technology. You'll find me working at publications such as Gfinity and Twinfinite, trying to gather as many game codes as possible! Otherwise, I can be found struggling against my giant backlog of games.