Sand Land Offers Compelling Adventure Based on an Akira Toriyama Manga

Akira Toriyama is one of the most well-known manga artists of all time. Nearly everyone worldwide knows of the multigenerational smash hit that is Dragon Ball, the energy of which can still be felt today due to events such as a stadium filled with people, all excited to see Goku’s climactic showdown with Jiren in Dragon Ball Super.

However, Dragon Ball isn’t all there is to Toriyama’s impressive tenure as a mangaka, as he created Dr. Slump and many shorter works such as Sand Land.

The story of Sand Land which the game is based on was a fun manga series back in the early 2000s. Comprised of 14 chapters, Sand Land tells the story of a fiend named Beelzebub, the prince of demons, and his journeys through a world that’s mostly been turned into desert. A human sheriff named Rao approaches the demons for help finding a legendary spring that will assuredly have enough water for everyone to live in harmony.

Back in the game, the world of Sand Land is desolate, and along the way you’ll encounter many soldiers from the King’s army that you’ll need to sneak, blast, and fight your way through in order to relinquish the King’s tight grasp on the world’s water supply. The villains are great, and there are even a few fun revelations to be had, but as with most of Toriyama’s non-Dragon Ball works, the story of Sand Land is intended to be an entertaining romp rather than a tale filled with suspense and intrigue.

After meeting Rao, Beelzebub and his retainer Thief all get into a vehicle and head across the open sand dunes to find the spring. But they’re almost immediately attacked by a dangerous sand worm that destroys their vehicle. Trekking across a gigantic desert with no vehicle is assuredly a way to get themselves killed, but you’re still free to explore and wander around as your heart desires. There’s always dragons or other creatures for you to beat up to gather materials.

Soon after this, Beelzebub and Rao come up with another plan: Steal a tank from the military. Entering the military base and sneaking around to snag one of their tanks is entertaining at first, but shooting your way out along with your newfound mechanic Ann is even better. Within the first couple hours, you’ll have your hands on a tank, and it’s roughly around that time that Sand Land gets significantly more interesting because you’ll be able to craft and upgrade new vehicles, too.

Sand Land has an interesting progression, especially given that you can just kind of wander around and collect things. While on foot, you engage enemies with a combat system that’s very anemic at first, where you have a light and heavy attack, but can’t even mix them or end a light combo string with a heavy blow. As you level, you gain skill points that unlock new combat abilities for Beelzebub, such as the ability to end a combo with a strong attack, use your dodge roll while in the air, or gain new attacks like a leg sweep.

The combat in Sand Land, even after a host of upgrades, never reaches a point where you’ll be lighting your copies of Devil May Cry 5 or Bayonetta 2 on fire, but it’s passable enough. You also gain upgrades to acquire new skills for your companions, too, with Rao specializing in dealing with enemies, while Thief can use his sneaky ways to acquire more items from fallen foes, just as examples. The character upgrades pale in comparison to what you’ll largely be tinkering with for most of your time in Sand Land, however: the vehicles.

While you venture through Anakin’s least favorite environment, you’ll be able to craft new tanks, jump robots, motorcycles, and even a battle robot that can punch the lights out of most enemies with ease. A lot of your progression will be gated by vehicle access- you need a tank to blast away cables that keep drawbridges up, while jump bots can be used to reach areas otherwise inaccessible to you. Odds are while cruising around you’ll find a ramp and try to jump it with your tank only to fail—you’ll need to come back once you acquire parts to craft a motorcycle.

Each vehicle has a bunch of different weapons, as well as parts like the engine and suspension that can be upgraded to improve performance. The parts you need come from enemies you beat, wildlife you destroy, and treasure chests you unearth. The materials are literally everywhere. Each vehicle has two weapons you can switch from depending on the situation with decent variety, to boot, so it was always fun to try out new weapons that are found or crafted as the vehicles leveled.

You’ll spend a significant amount of your time in Sand Land in a vehicle, either cruising around or blasting away enemies. The vehicle controls are intuitive and easy to grasp, to the extent that it actually made me sad when I had to get out of my tank or battle bot to engage enemies on foot. Fighting as Beelzebub on foot mostly seems to be used to break up the monotony of the vehicle segments, and there’s definitely some instances in the title that wouldn’t have been the same if you couldn’t punch their lights out as the fiend prince himself, but cruising around and sniping enemies in a tank was a lot more fun in my eyes.

So, combat is simple, and the controls are intuitive enough that most players should be able to pick Sand Land’s gameplay up without issue, but what about the exploration? Well, it has a very open world approach to its environments. You’re given an objective, but you can spend a couple hours just cruising around doing side quests, bounties, or other tasks to get more parts for your vehicle crafting addiction.

Akira Toriyama’s artwork being featured in video games is nothing new, especially considering the mangaka’s long tenure as the artist for Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger, and many other popular titles. Sand Land joins the stable of video games that emulate his art style incredibly well—this time without wacky boss music like Blue Dragon, too. The only downside of the visuals is that on PC, the engine Sand Land runs on doesn’t pre-cache shaders, so when you’re encountering a new visual effect it will stutter for a second before returning to 60fps again. So, bear that in mind if you’re extremely sensitive to visual stutters because that’s a common occurrence at the beginning of the game that goes away the longer you play due to the nature of shader caches.

Another downside for Sand Land is that it has extremely repetitious idle dialogue while exploring. Characters will say the same phrases or repeat entire conversations every few minutes with seemingly no way to stop it. The voice acting is phenomenal, exactly what you’d expect from something published by Bandai Namco, but you’ll be subjected to entire conversations between Rao and Beelzebub about looking out for things above you, and then hear it all again just a few minutes later. It’s weird there’s no way to turn idle dialogue occurrences down, or at least I didn’t immediately see a way to do so in the menu. As far as story scene music and dialogue, everything Sand Land does in that regard is above reproach in nearly every way, however.

Sand Land is a fun open world title based on a nearly forgotten manga property from over twenty years ago, and while it doesn’t particularly break new ground, it’s still just fun to run around and beat on fantasy monsters and explore buried, sandy ruins. If you don’t like open world games or would prefer a title that does something entirely unique, Sand Land probably won’t scratch that itch for you. However, if you’re a fan of Toriyama’s artwork or just want a new open world game to explore, Sand Land is a great choice for you with anywhere from 30 to 50 hours of content.

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