Sand Land Preview – What Akira Tokiyama did next

Sand Land artwork header

How do you follow up a hugely successful series like Dragon Ball? Having created a franchise that had captured millions of readers, viewers and players around the globe, that was the question Akira Toriyama found himself facing in the late nineties. The answer, surprisingly, came about by accident. He wrote a story about a man and a tank, intending for it to be something personal that he’d never release. Instead, it blossomed into something different. This is Sand Land.

The original Manga was serialised in Shonen Jump back in 2000, and follows the exploits of Sheriff Rao in the aftermath of a great war. Ecological damage has meant that the kingdom has been left without water, with the greedy king controlling the remaining water supply and fleecing the country’s citizens. Rao decides that enough is enough, and approaches the demons of Sand Land for their aid in discovering a new water source. He’s subsequently joined on his quest by Beelzebub and Thief, and they set out on an adventure together, hoping to fix the nation’s malady. This is where the game comes in.

Our hands-on demo picks up right after these opening moments, with Rao, Beelzebub and Thief racing across the desert with a huge Genji dragon in their wake. You’re immediately thrust into a spot of into-the-screen vehicular action with the crazed creature hammering after you, diving into the earth and springing back out in an attempt to overturn your vehicle, all the while soundtracked by some crunching heavy metal. It’s a fun introduction to the trio as they’re setting forth on their quest, but as the manga dictates, that journey doesn’t get off to the smoothest of starts.

Sand Land adventuring

After making a daring escape you find that you’ve already lost all of your supplies, including your foot and water. Still, the group aren’t deterred, instead setting out across the desert in search of food and water. Along the way you discover some bandits with a tank, and just like in the manga this crucial turning point sees you attempt to part it from them. Combat on foot is a case of button mashing for combos, with the ability to dodge a crucial part of keeping your energy up. You can also use a special move from a radial pop-up, and each move given a different cost.

Once the tank is yours, your trek across the desert suddenly becomes a lot more interesting, and a lot more explosive. You’re able to utilise the tank’s armaments – a cannon and a machine gun – and turn them on the local wildlife or the desert’s more villainous inhabitants. You can also blast your way through various sections of the craggy rock that dots the landscape, creating short cuts for your heroes to nip through.

As you’d expect from a modern anime-inspired game, Sand Land certainly looks the part and brings Beelzebub, Rao and Thief to life in convincing fashion, with bold, anime-inspired lines the order of the day. In our demo the world is a little sparse, but then this is a desert, with only a small, broken-down village to break things up. It’ll be interesting to see how much variety the development team can create in terms of the environments, though it seems likely that this is very much a character-driven piece rather than one that’ll visually blow player’s minds.

Sand Land tank

Besides the on-foot and vehicular combat, there’s loot to collect, with supplies and craftables seemingly in place, as well as the requisite peddler who’ll sell you their wares, though there’s no indication of how integral these systems will be to player progression.

At the close of our short demo the trio happen upon a loud-mouthed group of thieves who are intent on robbing you. They probably get a little more than they are expecting though, with Beelzebub’s frantic demonic combos able to see them all off in short order. He’s immediately a lot of fun to play as, and it appears as though he’ll gain access to more moves as you progress through the tale. Personally, I’m all about the tank though.

Our demo was short but sweet, and Sand Land looks to continue Bandai Namco’s stranglehold on anime action. It will be interesting to see how closely they follow the relatively short original story, but for fans in particular it’s great to see these characters finally come to life.

If you’re interested in knowing more about Sand Land, the original manga is available via all good book retailers, while a brand-new CGI movie has just released this month in Japan, with a Western release expected in 2024.

Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.