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Sand Land

Sand Land Preview: Four hours in Akira Toriyama's striking desert world

We visited Bandai Namco and got the chance to try out several different aspects of their upcoming role-playing game Sand Land.

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Water has become a rarity, the world is devastated, a brutal dictatorship has taken over, people are starving, and to top it all off, there are demons in the world. Nightmarish? Not at all really since this is an Akira Toriyama series at heart, one presented in his inimitable and very charming style - and Sand Land is no exception.

Sand Land
Your tank is a very versatile vehicle in Sand Land.

The late Dragon Ball creator published the Sand Land manga 24 years ago, and it wasn't until 2023 that it was turned into an anime in a feature film that is currently only released in Japan (though you can follow the brand new TV series on Disney+ as of now). This particular movie I had the honour of watching during a recent Bandai Namco event to be better introduced to this lesser known Toriyama world.

The main character is the demon Beelzebub, who by his own admission is phenomenally evil, but in reality is a good guy who seems to want everyone to be happy. The only problem is that demons are not looked upon favourably by the people of Sand Land, which is largely made up of the aforementioned royal dictatorship and poor people fighting for scraps. Nevertheless, a brave sheriff, Beelzebub and a character called Thief set out to find water to distribute to the people, with water being the way the dictatorship controls the people, which means they are not happy about the idea of losing their bargaining chip thanks to Beelzebub's efforts.

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Sand Land
The game is seemingly varied with plenty to do.
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The main battles are vehicle-based, and you can equip them as you see fit.

In the absence of other comparisons, I would say that Sand Land is most reminiscent of the first Borderlands and Id Software's first Rage. I'm not just referring to the initially sandy and dystopian world, but also to the fact that vehicles play a very large role in the game. It is mainly in these that you fight your opponents, explore the seemingly huge world and you can also upgrade them in various ways with both weapons and properties and of course pimp them out in all kinds of colours.

One of the first vehicles you come across is the tank you have probably seen in several pictures and trailers, which was also the vehicle I used the most when I got the chance to try it out. It is a versatile but somewhat slow means of transportation, but seems to be excellent in battles thanks to its high firepower. If you want to move over large distances, however, the motorcycle may be a better option, and a jumping mech is available for more platform-like passages, while a hovercraft does the trick on water.

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Sand Land
Thanks to your mech, you can also jump around the world, which is handy if you want to get to the mountains.

You have access to all your vehicles at all times and switch between them with convenient menus accessed via a radial menu, which are also used to apply different types of power-ups. Since it's a role-playing game, there are also level trees for Beelzebub and his companions, which at first glance didn't look very interesting, apparently providing rather small changes such as more useable health or a new combo. However, about half of them were locked at this time of the game, so there is a chance that we will get positive surprises towards the end. It's clear that the vehicles are the star here and there seems to have been much more energy put into changing them to your liking.

The world is spontaneously very large and some sections felt a bit too much of a slog when traveling from point A to B - and sometimes back again, which is at least partly remedied by fast travel. Fortunately, in the four or so hours I had to play, most of what I experienced were side quests (like helping a little girl get her sight back via a singing demon), combat against numerous monsters, and opportunities to talk to the inhabitants of the world and to find secrets.

Sand Land
You get to play a lot on foot, where we got to try out both combat and stealth.

I also made it to what I'd like to think of as a dungeon with Zelda-inspired water puzzles to solve and a boss to defeat in the form of a giant squid. The latter offered an entertaining fight in classic retro style, and by that I mean that it was initially challenging, until I outwitted all the tricks and thus suddenly could attack the octopus without even taking any damage. In short, the way bosses often were in the past, which is something I personally like.

There is seemingly plenty of gameplay variety, and I managed to spend time in the mountains jumping around, participated in vehicle races, played as a bounty hunter, visited a large city and tried a stealth section by sneaking into a military base. There's probably a lot more than this, and it seems likely that Sand Land will be an extensive, varied and elaborate adventure.

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It's not all desert, despite the name. Forest Land is a lush green paradise.

Before playing Sand Land, however, I was a little worried that the world would feel monotonous given that it's just sand, sand and sand. Luckily, the game covers more than Akira Toriyama's manga and has extra content (which Toriyama was also at least somewhat involved in), meaning there are other worlds to explore as well. I was able to visit the lush and very green Forest Land, which offered a very colourful gaming experience.

Overall, I left four hours of Sand Land gaming with a feeling of wanting more. I have thought this was interesting from the very beginning, but after playing it, I now know that it seems to be a different and entertaining action role-playing game that hopefully can also be a nice farewell to the wonderful Akira Toriyama.

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