Sand Land Review

Sand Land keyart header

The bountiful creations of the late Akira Toriyama are household names, but you won’t find any of his most well-known characters in Sand Land. His lesser-known graphic novel has remained a footnote when compared to Dragon Ball Z’s prodigious success, but it’s clear that someone out there thinks that now is Sand Land’s time, with the arrival of a movie, an animated series, and a video game adaptation, all in the last six months. This multi-format assault showcases that the genius of Akira Toriyama extended far beyond the Dragon Balls, and while it might have taken a long time coming, it was well worth the wait.

The titular Sand Land is a kingdom beset by a great drought, leaving a barren, desolate sandpit where humans and demons alike struggle to survive. While the humans here eke out an existence amongst the sand, the long-lived demons struggle just as much without water to sustain them. They come in all shapes and sizes – from ghosts to slime monsters and the occasional centaur – and humanity is as terrified of them as you’d expect. Lucifer is at the head of this mischievous menagerie, but his son and heir, Beelzebub, is the star of Sand Land.

Sheriff Rao convinces Beelzebub – Belz to his friends – to join him on a quest for the Legendary Spring, hoping to bring water to all the residents of Sand Land. Beelzebub opts to bring the wise and curmudgeonly Thief along with them, and this trio form the heart of your adventure, their journey and their shared experiences forming an unlikely bond between them.

Sand Land art style

This is all helped by the excellent voice acting from both the Japanese cast and their English dub cohort, and the central protagonists from the anime reprise their roles here too. Risa Mei manages to make Beelzebub a genuinely likeable central character, while Joanthon Lipow lends Rao a true sense of gravitas and emotional depth. The star of the show though remains Owen Thomas’ Thief, whose constant complaints could have become annoying if handled differently. I found myself rooting for the team from the very beginning, and there’s a high chance you will too.

Sand Land is a compact open-world adventure, and I really appreciated its relatively streamlined storytelling, with a run time of around 20 hours. That’s helped by the fact that the Sand Land manga is a single, self-contained volume, though Akira added new characters and events that appear here and in the new anime.

Sand Land tank combat

Early on in the tale you steal a tank, and vehicular combat forms a major part of the game’s action, blasting enemies and parts of the scenery to smithereens as you head to your next destination. It all feels very similar to Halo’s excellent on-wheel combat, and as your garage expands to include an ever-wider and wilder selection of vehicles, there’s enough variety to ensure that things never become stale.

When you’re on foot, Sand Land becomes a straight-up brawler and, as a Demon, Beelzebub is pretty handy in a fight. He becomes even handier as the game progresses, unlocking new moves and combos to smack the bad/good guys around with as much as you want. It has to be said that it’s all pretty easy, and that extends to the vehicle combat too. This is a game that’s more about the story than it is challenging players, and only the bosses and largest creatures will really get your blood pumping.

Sand Land brawler

Somehow, despite being set firmly in a sandy desert location, Sand Land looks quite attractive, capturing Toriyama’s idiosyncratic character design in a highly effective way. From Beelzebub, Thief and Rao to the eternally idiotic criminal gangs – you need to check out The Swimmers in their speedos and goggles – this is a vibrant, off-beat and unique title that truly looks the part. There’s clear pencil lines and brush strokes applied to everything here, and it lends the adventure the feel of an anime that’s been brought to life. It’s worth noting that the accompanying anime – you can find it streaming on Disney+ at the moment.

There are annoyances, including the repetition of conversations between the central trio as you explore the plains, and other minor mechanical choices like the fact that your vehicles disappear if you move more than five metres away, forcing you to call them back into being. They’re all entirely liveable, but they wear especially thin by the time you see the credits roll.

Summary
Sand Land is all set to be your new favourite anime, with compelling characters, enjoyable combat and great anime visuals in video game form. You might just find that Akira Toriyama has saved the best for last.
Good
  • Unique and likeable characters
  • Vehicle combat is plenty of fun
  • The prettiest desert of the year
Bad
  • Repeated conversations
  • Somewhat easy
8
Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.

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