SAND LAND Review | PlayStation 5

Manga action blows the dust away, but it isn’t quite enough.

By JustAnotherJake, Posted 29 Apr 2024

Earlier this year the world lost the great mangaka Akira Toriyama. He was most known for his work on the Dragon Ball series, but his art style reached all sorts of crowds with his style taking the stage in Dragon Quest and Chrono Trigger. It is quite an impressive line of work under Toriyama’s belt.

One of Toriyama’s more recent personal works can be found in the 2000 manga series Sand Land. Perhaps it was a push to fill in some sort of Dragon Ball-shaped hole in the media sphere, but Sand Land was pushed heavily with an anime adaptation following shortly after the manga’s release and even now a full video game with the same name: SAND LAND.

SAND LAND, Review, PS5, Gameplay, Screenshots, Beelzebub, Manga Adaptation, NoobFeed

SAND LAND’s biggest hook is in the form of its presentation. This is primarily on the visual front as the game retains the art style that is found in both the pages of the manga and in the frames of the anime. It is actually really impressive on its own how well the designs of the world and its elements translate to the third dimension.

Even small details like lines that would normally just represent a shadow in the manga remain in the video game but look good and if anything, simply make the game look like a manga come to life. The color choices also make the visual appeal of SAND LAND stand out. It is impressive, especially given how much of the game is in a basic-looking desert.

Despite most of SAND LAND taking place in a rocky and dry desert, the game has plenty of visual flair to spice things up. Whether it's deep caverns, deep cliff sides, ruined villages, or dark military bases, the visuals never get old. The designs of characters and monsters alike certainly can help with goofy-looking thugs wearing bright yellow and purple or military goons driving large round tanks.

It is all very much what one would expect from the mind of Akira Toriyama. It actually feels like in a lot of ways SAND LAND was crafted to feature a lot of the design elements that got overshadowed in other works of Akira Toriyama. Specifically, the world design and vehicle designs are shown off quite a lot in this title.

In terms of character, SAND LAND can feel a little bizarre at times. It is almost as if the game specifically jumps over the character bits to get going with things. This obviously has its upsides and downsides. This strange character pacing can be found in all three of the introductory cast.

SAND LAND, Review, PS5, Gameplay, Screenshots, Manga Adaptation

Beelzebub being the main character, obviously gets the most screen time, so his character is slowly explored through the whole game but at the beginning, he really isn’t much more than just the demon prince.

Rao, the human sheriff definitely has some elements of his character glossed over at the beginning, as his home village isn’t even shown in the opening of the game so his background and overall feeling as a character doesn’t hit the ground running. The weirdest of the trio is Thief, as his character sort of feels lazy overall. Thief doesn’t even have a proper name to him, as it seems ‘Thief’ is his name.

Characters introduced later in SAND LAND have more fanfare. Ann, a tech genius who very much feels like a spin on Bulma’s character from Dragon Ball, has the most build-up until she joins the main cast. She has separate goals and desires but they align with the other main characters so her tagging along makes sense.

The villains as well are also shown throughout the game to the point where at times it feels like they are more well-known than any of the main cast. There is a possibility that this was all intentional from the original source material, with the exception of story elements being pushed aside like in Rao’s case. The reason this may actually be the case can be seen within the context and theming of the overall narrative and setting.

The story of SAND LAND is a sort of post-apocalyptic narrative, where most of the water on Earth has gone away due to mankind's wars as well as several natural disasters. The main trio of Beelzebub, Rao, and Thief are on a quest to find a legendary spring, to help supply their respective homes with water. The opposing force is the King’s army, all of which are greedy militaristic enemies.

SAND LAND, Review, PS5, Gameplay, Screenshots, Manga Adaptation, Bad guys

This is where the enemies having more to them would make sense as the heroes are, for the most part, nobodies just trying to make the world a better place. That’s just a theory as to why these characters are characterized the way they are. Realistically, these elements are likely the way they are just because the story is faster-paced.

SAND LAND’s faster-paced story is a result of it being based on a much shorter manga. The game covers the entirety of the manga, so things can go by very quickly even if they are slightly more fleshed out with the open design of the game. But that doesn’t change the fact that what is here is jam-packed with consistent content.

There isn’t much downtime aside from basic exploration. That is very welcome, especially when a rather basic run through the game results in about a twenty-five-hour long game. This lets the game be a game without the extra bloat a lot of other open-world or narrative-based games would have just by their nature.

There are two major forms of gameplay in SAND LAND. The one form that covers the game the most is the vehicular gameplay. The vehicles in the game are the core of the game, as there is so much to them. With multiple different vehicle types and the ease of switching between them quickly, navigating the vast world and fighting back with heavy artillery is very fun and never gets all that boring.

That being said there is a part to the vehicular combat that does get a bit stale. That being the enemies and their AI. The enemies throughout the whole game are all very unique in terms of design but there isn’t a lot of variety to the basic foes that the player will be fighting. On top of that, the enemy AI isn’t the brightest and is often outsmarted, leaving most combat encounters to be kind of boring after a while.

SAND LAND, Review, PS5, Gameplay, Screenshots, Manga Adaptation, Tank Combat

Unfortunately, that same sentiment can be said about SAND LAND’s second form of gameplay, that being the typical on-foot style. To make matters worse for the combat side of things, hand-to-hand combat is very typical and usually just boils down to button mashing and dodging. The predictable AI makes it so most encounters are just light attack button mash fests with the occasional dodge thrown in.

In all honesty, the game could have gone without the hand-to-hand combat and it would have had a better flow, however, it wouldn’t be able to follow the original narrative if that were the case. The other aspects of the on-foot style of gameplay are all good, so that’s an upside. Running around is very quick and snappy so it is very comfortable to dash around as Beelzebub. There is even a really nice flowing double jump that would have worked really well in a platformer, but here really aids in quickly navigating smaller areas.

There is a basic skill tree in SAND LAND as well that helps pinpoint growth as the player goes forth on their adventure. But as mentioned, it is a very basic skill tree. There isn’t much depth to it at all. The upgrades are very basic from small additives to the field to increase drops from enemies.

While it is disappointing in terms of finding more powerful abilities, it does mark progress in terms of how far the player has come and that is always a nice treat to have. There is no skill tree for the vehicles directly, rather there are multiple different parts the player can find to upgrade the vehicles that way. This feels slightly more rewarding but still doesn’t offer too much in terms of exciting upgrades to look forward to.

SAND LAND as a game is overall a pretty fun package but it misses a lot of the marks in terms of being exemplary. It does dodge the very typical area fighter format of gameplay that a lot of other manga and anime games tend to land themselves in. That alone is a great step in the right direction and hopefully proves that other games based on similar media can take separate dives.

SAND LAND, Review, PS5, Gameplay, Screenshots, Manga Adaptation

To be honest, it doesn’t even have to be anime or manga-based. It would just be great for more games to take more creative, cartoony, and bright looks to their art styles. Just because a game has a cartoony look to it doesn’t mean it can't be a deeper or darker game it just allows for more visual variety.

To sum up everything about SAND LAND, it is a decent time. It is a very fun visual game but doesn’t feel all that special when it comes down to the actual gameplay. It is the sort of gameplay that a lot of people will love but will probably get just as many people complaining that it isn’t the next big thing in terms of gameplay. But in reality, does every single game that comes out need to be some sort of new revolution in gaming?

There is a reason why many games have been leaning towards indie-style games or asking industries to return to their roots with older-style gameplay formats. Regardless of the current state of the gaming world, SAND LAND deserves to shine on some. It is a fun romp with some fun designs, and later in the game the story actually begins to evolve past that chunky start it had with the character introductions.


With the manga and anime behind SAND LAND being over with as well, the game serves as a good ending piece to the story. It allows for three completely different ways of consuming one of Akira Toriyama’s lesser-known works.

While the manga and anime allow for more direct ways of consuming the story, the video game offers a more broadened look at the world found within the story of SAND LAND. The video game is just as good of a way to consume the story as the other two, but if new and wild gameplay is what the player is after then this isn’t the best way to go about things.

Jacob Cowsert (@TweetJAJ)
News Editor, NoobFeed

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General Information



Platform(s): PC, PS5, XBSX, PS4
Publisher(s): Namco Bandai Games America Inc.
Developer(s): ILCA
Genres: Role-Playing
Themes: Anime, Vehicular Combat, Action
Release Date: 2024-04-26

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