Sand Land explores beyond the source material's borders

In addition to exploring the setting of the original manga, Sand Land has plenty of new material for its video game debut.

Bandai Namco

The late Akira Toriyama is remembered for several influential anime and manga series that have gone on to become major pop culture staples. Compared to Dragon Ball and Dragon Quest, Sand Land is one of his lesser-known works. However, when it was first revealed during last year's Summer Game Fest, it was clear that there was plenty about its setting and premise that would make for an entertaining video game. Shacknews recently had the opportunity to check out the latest from Bandai Namco and see that the publisher is not only paying tribute to the Sand Land story, but it's also expanding on its mythos in a big way.

Sand Land plans to introduce its players to the source material's key characters. Beelzebub is the Prince of Demons. He's threatening, but more mischievous in a Bart Simpson kind of way. He's joined by Sheriff Rao, who formerly served in the king's army and now helps Beelzebub find his way through the Mad Max-like dystopia of the titular Sand Land. The third member of his party is a diminutive demon named Thief, who's naturally named that for a reason. Following years of war, the world's consumable water supply grows lower each day and Beelzebub sets out to find new water sources for survival.

Firing the Hovertank's Neutron Cannon in Sand Land

Source: Bandai Namco

The bulk of our preview session saw Beelzebub journey to Forest Land, an all-new setting for the series. The Forest Land Army is seeking out a new precious element known as Aquanium, which will allow them to seize control of a powerful war ship that could lay siege to the world. A new ally from Forest Land named Ann is helping our heroes in the fight against the Forest Land Army, but she quickly finds herself imprisoned and needs a hand to escape.

Before getting to Forest Land, we had time to explore the nearby Cardamo Ruins, which would lead to the new region. This is where players could utilize both sides of Sand Land's gameplay formula. Beelzebub can roam around on foot, jumping across gaps to new areas and pulling levers to solve puzzles. He can also use a variety of vehicles, switching back and forth at any given time by summoning one like a Pokemon. While the wide open outdoor spaces are suitable for heavy artillery tanks the inside of the ruins required smaller vehicles. The Hovertank, specifically, was used frequently to surf across vast bodies of water and glide across flatter surfaces. The Hovertank may not carry the same firepower as Sand Land's bigger tanks, but it was more than capable of holding its own during our gameplay session. It was able to squeeze through the labyrinthine ruins and was also able to withstand the ending boss battle with a Kraken.

After escaping the ruins, it was time to get more familiar with the game's other vehicle types. In addition to the standard tank and Hovertank, there's a motorcycle for traversal, a Jump-Bot walker for tighter spaces, and the one-wheeled Uniride for faster exploration, just to name a few examples. More vehicle types are uncovered over time, as noted when we got into some Battle Armor towards the end of our gameplay session. Every vehicle has primary and secondary fire with players able to switch back and forth on a dime. Vehicle combat feels silky smooth and stands a good chance of being of Sand Land's biggest highlights. There's even an option to ride certain animals, as I eventually went the rest of the way to Forest Land atop a friendly raptor. After getting familiar with the vehicles, Forest Land was on the horizon, looking lush, green, and a sharp contrast from the Sand Land region that manga readers may be familiar with.

Beelzebub attacking outside of his vehicle in Sand Land

Source: Bandai Namco

The other thing to note about Sand Land is that it promises to be a world filled with memorable characters. Beelzebub, as the bratty yet benevolent Prince of Demons, already promises to be an interesting hero, especially as he meets the inner ranks of the Forest Land Army and how he may be more tied to them than he realizes. Sheriff Rao's past makes him uniquely suited to rounding up the revolution mobilizing against the Forest Land Army. Side characters like the oddball Swimmer gang look to offer some fun comedy relief, while newer faces like Ann will play a big role in the story while also helping out on the gameplay front.

Sand Land has several other components to it, including some stealth sections and a vast open world filled with different side quests. Those side quests can range from helping the world's survivors to getting into races with your vehicles. It's interesting to note that our gameplay session was said to have taken place 30 hours into the story, meaning this won't be a short romp through the apocalypse. Bandai Namco is offering a full, robust story with a lot of side content and numerous ways to extend the experience, which includes finding materials to help customize vehicles.

Those who aren't familiar with Sand Land may come to better appreciate it by the time the credits roll. Prepare to visit this imaginative world from the late Akira Toriyama when Sand Land comes to PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S on Thursday, April 25.

This preview is based on an early PlayStation 5 version played during a private press event held near the Bandai Namco offices in Irvine, CA. Lunch was provided. The final product is subject to change.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
Hello, Meet Lola