Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

WellPlayedWellPlayed

Review

Sand Land Review

Neither coarse nor rough

Like many, I was taken aback by the sudden loss of Akira Toriyama. His work will forever influence modern pop culture, such was the impact Dragon Ball had on anime and manga, let alone reaching mainstream audiences like no other. I’d hardly say I know everything about his career or Dragon Ball itself, but it’s clear to me how vital his style is to so many other creative endeavours. It’s a blessing, perhaps, that one of his other seminal works will now reach a greater audience at a time where many are looking back upon his incredibly successful career, one that forgoes super heroics and battles that never end for a story that hits a little closer to home.

Sand Land tells the tale of a land ravaged by war and drought. Ruled by a greedy king willing to sell his personal supply of water at an increasingly high cost, local Sheriff Rao takes it upon himself to uncover a secret water supply to solve the land’s problems once and for all. However, he can’t do it alone, and he calls upon the fiend prince Beelzebub to aid him. Because demons need water too, you know. There’s humour and drama aplenty, merged with reflections of our own climate change and political predicaments. It’s arguably more important now than it was when first published at the tail end of the 20th century, demons aside.

At first glance, Sand Land is a colourful tale despite its sandy undertones, full of 3D platforming environments, a hint of open-world exploration, and a solid selection of vehicles to take down crime gangs and enemy soldiers. You’ll start with a tank and eventually unlock a decent selection of rideables, each with their own pros and cons. I was especially fond of the bike early on, a nice burst of speed for the occasions where fast travel is unavailable, but every vehicle controls smoothly. The tank controls less like, well, a tank, and more an old-school twin stick shooter. Flick the left stick to move and the right stick to aim, it’s as satisfying as it sounds.

He’s nicer than he looks

When you’re not driving around in the sun, Beelzebub can punch his way through anything in front of him. It’s a little button-mashy, granted, though Rao and fellow demon teammate Thief can aid in battles with smokescreens and buffs if things get heated. Not that they really do, as combat scenarios are easily taken care of with the right strategy. Most mobs can be shot down in the tank, especially once you level it up a few times, and the handful of boss battles you face can equally be overcome with some well-placed shots. There’s one or two that aggravate more than others, especially towards the latter stages of the story, but that’s hardly unusual in a game of this ilk.

Early on you’ll bump into a handful of characters that each play an important role, both within the story and general gameplay, but Ann is significant. Pushing the story along is one thing, but her skills as a mechanic are vital in keeping the experience a smooth one. Visit as often as you can once you’ve gathered enough parts and currency and push those upgrades to each vehicle as you unlock them. There will be occasions where you’ll have to divert your time to find what you need, but most of the items can be discovered randomly during the campaign or by visiting the right vendors that pop-up within the small number of towns you’ll visit. It’s hardly a chore.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.



Speaking of which, as open-world games go, this isn’t your typical Ubisoft time sinker. Icons hardly clutter the map as you would expect, with the number of side-quests settling into a reasonable amount with a decent level of diverging objectives. I never felt bothered by any of them, some of the quests play into the idea of casual simplicity Sand Land has at its forefront, and most can be ignored if you must. Though I will suggest gunning as much as you can, there are benefits there you’ll feel towards the latter half of the campaign involving your home base (of sorts).

Tank? Tank!

Satisfying controls and a lack of overly complicated mechanics make up most of Sand Land’s pleasant nature and pulls you away from some of its minor problems. In story terms, all the major beats of the original manga are here, along with some newer story content written by Toriyama before his passing that will be more familiar to those who have caught up on the anime. But it does feel rushed in places, condensed, especially within the first story arc. It’s a decent pace otherwise, respectful of the source material, but those scenes and humorous moments from the original work would have benefitted the final product. That’s especially true given how strangely old the game feels in places, characters models moving rigidly as if pulled from the N64 era, the 2D side-scrolling moments awkwardly dropped in like that random garnish on top of your soup. No-one ever eats the garnish.

One thing the game does right, however, is its visual representation of the original manga. Despite their awkward movements, character models look the part, closely resembling the quasi-3D adaption of the anime that maintains Toriyama’s vision to great effect. And though most of the world is sand as far as the eye can see, everything pops with a pleasing sense of colour and detail. There’s the occasional framerate drop, but otherwise it’s a wonderful rendition of a living, breathing cartoon I would happily spend more time in long past the story’s twists and turns come to an end.

I admit I haven’t been a fan of Bandai Namco’s previous anime game adaptions. Many of them feel like copy/paste beat ‘em ups that lack a sense of respect for the source material, others rushed and glitched to high heaven that no-doubt were cobbled together to cash-in on the material’s success. But Sand Land hits different. There’s a level of quality here I haven’t seen from a Bandai Namco licensed title in some time. Granted, it’s still a bit rough around the edges and a tad easy in its first few hours, but you can tell what a difference a little extra love can make. I like to think Toriyama had a hand in that, as one of his last projects, but either way it’s the kind of thing I wish the Japanese publisher would do more often with the opportunities it gets.

I’d like to see them try a backstroke

Final Thoughts

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.



The term ‘pleasant’ comes to mind when I try to wrap up my feelings towards Sand Land. Despite its obvious issues, everything manages to come together in a way that neither annoys nor complicates in the same way most open-world adventures can. It’s enjoyable where it needs to be, avoids certain pitfalls in others, and looks the part where it counts. Those who come in hoping for an adaptation that understands Sand Land’s core themes should discover plenty to appreciate and enjoy. I’d prefer to recommend this to those who don’t know anything about Toriyama’s work, however. If all you’ve ever known of him is Dragon Ball, I implore you to give Sand Land a shot. If it’s not here within a solid and respectful video game, then go pick up a copy of the manga or hunt down the anime adaption on Disney+ as soon as you can. Trust me.

Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

Click here for more information on WellPlayed’s review policy and ethics

Sand Land Review
A respectful nod to a seminal creator
Sand Land manages the tough task of translating an enjoyable story without overdoing the open-world mechanics in the process. It’s rough in places but is a respectful adaptation of Toriyama’s work and a pleasant experience throughout.
The Good
Solid and respectful adaption of Toriyama’s work
Colourful and bright environments
Easy to control vehicles, both driving and in combat
Open-world lacks the Ubisoft clutter
Altogether enjoyable in many ways
The Bad
2D Platforming segments are awkward
Jumping could have been a little tighter
Camera struggles in places
Character movements feel plucked from yesteryear game design
Occasional framerate dips in busy places
8
Get Around It
  • ILCA, Inc.
  • Bandai Namco
  • PS5 / PS4, Xbox Series X|S / PC
  • April 24, 2024

Sand Land Review
A respectful nod to a seminal creator
Sand Land manages the tough task of translating an enjoyable story without overdoing the open-world mechanics in the process. It’s rough in places but is a respectful adaptation of Toriyama’s work and a pleasant experience throughout.
The Good
Solid and respectful adaption of Toriyama’s work
Colourful and bright environments
Easy to control vehicles, both driving and in combat
Open-world lacks the Ubisoft clutter
Altogether enjoyable in many ways
The Bad
2D Platforming segments are awkward
Jumping could have been a little tighter
Camera struggles in places
Character movements feel plucked from yesteryear game design
Occasional framerate dips in busy places
8
Get Around It
Written By Mark Isaacson

Known on the internet as Kartanym, Mark has been in and out of the gaming scene since what feels like forever, growing up on Nintendo and evolving through the advent of PC first person shooters, PlayStation and virtual reality. He'll try anything at least once and considers himself the one true king of Tetris by politely ignoring the world records.

Comments

Latest Podcast Episode

You May Also Like

Review

Try finger, but whole

Advertisement