Sand Land Is An Action-Packed Take On A Long-Dormant Manga

We got hands-on with Sand Land, the post-apocalyptic action-RPG from the mind of Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama.


After 23 years of lying dormant, Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama's post-apocalyptic manga Sand Land emerges from the barren wasteland anew, and in a massive way, with an all-new, feature-length CGI anime movie and action-RPG both from publisher Bandai Namco. After its world premiere at Summer Game Fest, I got the chance to go hands-on with Bandai Namco's adaptation of Toriyama's take on a Mad Max-like world--albeit, a world that centers around a demon boy with a heart of gold (because of course).

Years after a natural disaster and war, the world is left a desert wasteland where water is scarce and a tyrannical king now dangles his private supply of it as a precious and expensive resource. Like any post-apocalyptic story, gangs and factions now ravage the land, scavenging and raiding its resources, fighting over what's barely left of it. That includes Sheriff Rao, a hoarse-voiced old man tired of the king's greed, who sets out on his own pilgrimage to find water for his people. He eventually crosses paths with an unexpecting partner, the son of Lucifer himself, Beelzebub, the quirky demon prince who joins Rao on his journey out of, as it was described to me, boredom.

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Now Playing: Sand Land Reveal Trailer | Summer Game Fest 2023

Springing off the heels of Rao and Beelzebub's unsanctioned allyship, the demo began with an action-packed set piece that saw our unlikely duo slamming the pedal to the metal in Rao's jeep while trying to outrun a geji dragon--an enormous, dinosaur-sized lizard squirming and swimming beneath the sand, hot on the tail of our heroes. In what felt like a scene out of Uncharted, I steered Rao's jeep, weaving and dodging down a narrow canyon as the Geji Dragon burst from the ground trying to catch me in its grasps, before diving back into the sand all sandworm-like as if it was from Dune. It felt big, and not just because the dragon took up most of the screen, but as a tone piece for the world Sand Land is set in. There's far more to fear in Sand Land than just bandits and scarce resources, there's also giant, terrifying, menacing dinosaurs, too. Thankfully, as the son of Lucifer, Beelzebub has a few moves up his sleeves to stand his ground.

Combat operates in real time, with jumps, dodges, and light and heavy attacks, all which can be stringed together for a variety of combos. After dodging the grips of the big lizard, I beat up some bandits, stole their tank, and went joyriding around the desert, opening fire on dinosaurs--some were like raptors, others bigger and even more terrifying. While shooting from the tank, you can cycle between missiles and a mounted machine gun, but reloading them isn't as simple as a button press. Instead, reloading requires a cooldown, making switching back and forth between the two necessary to the flow of combat, so you aren't able to solely rely on missiles when shooting down some of the fierce dinosaurs that roam the land. And I mean fierce. If you're not careful, there's a risk of pulling aggro on geji dragon-sized beasts, which can make for a tense dash through the dunes to get as far away as possible.

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The demo wrapped up with Rao and Beelzebub facing off against an eccentric and colorful gang, wearing bright yellow and black diamond-printed tights with big quiff white hairdos. This is where I got a glimpse of Beelzebub's special attacks and abilities that can be unlocked and leveled up. As you fight, Beelzebub fills up an energy bar, which gives you an array of special attacks to unleash in the midst of a fight, which can be accessed in an ability wheel and unleashed with a button press.

Still, a major focus of Sand Land's story and gameplay loop is scavenging for parts and water, which I didn't get to see during my hands-on time. While it's still unclear what role it will play in the game's progression, I did notice I was picking up scraps as I downed enemies. Additionally, I do know that you'll be jumping in-and-out of vehicles to traverse the sprawling dunes, and while I only got the chance to zip around in Rao's jeep and an artillery tank, the game will feature motorcycles, mechs, and will even let you harness up on the back of a dinosaur. Yee-haw!

Sand Land's reveal came out of nowhere during this year's Summer Game Fest, and from my brief 15 minutes of hands-on, it's shaping up to be a fun take as its first gaming adaptation. That's especially true of the visuals, which have that signature Bandai Namco touch that has nailed the look of its previous Dragon Ball games. While Sand Land's CGI anime is set to release in August, a release date for the game has yet to be announced. Suffice to say, Bandai Namco seems confident that now is the time for Sand Land to emerge after all these years. Sand Land is expected to release on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, and PC.

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