Sand Land – Game Review

Sand Land

(available for PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox Series X & S, and PC. PlayStation 5 version used for this review.)

Akira Toriyama is a man who needs no introduction. From creating the legendary Dragon Ball series – which helped to popularise anime outside of Japan – to lending his artwork to renowned classics like the Dragon Quest franchise and Chrono Trigger, there is a reason why Toriyama is considered an icon in Japanese media. Though, of course, Dragon Ball isn’t the only manga series under his belt, as he also created a number of other franchises, starting with Dr Slump up until his newest short-lived Jaco the Galactic Patrolman. One of these creations is Sand Land, a single volume series that ran during the year 2000. This year seems to be really celebrating this somewhat obscure manga, as not only did we get a 13 episode anime, but it also got a video game adaptation, adapting the events of the manga and even containing a new arc that takes place after the original story, taking place in somewhere called Forest Land. Sand Land (the video game) came out on the 26th of April 2024 for PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox Series X/S and Steam.


The game takes place in the titular Sand Land, a land that, after years of natural disasters and war, has been reduced to a desert where water is scarce, after the stream that provided it has dried up. Now water can only be bought from the king for a ludicrous price. You take on the role of the demon prince Beelzebub, a mischievous fiend with a love for video games, comic books and pulling pranks on humans. One day, a sheriff named Rao, who like everyone else tires of the king’s greed, arrives at the demon village to recruit the demon’s help with finding a legendary spring that can be used as a new water supply. Beelzebub, excited for adventure and wanting to help his demon friends, agrees to join Rao on his mission to hunt down this spring, dragging his friend Thief along with him. Along the way they will encounter bounty hunters, monsters, and the king’s forces attempting to put an end to their journey. 

The original story was a lot of fun, and I think this game adapts it very well. Of course, some events are abridged or just cut out, either for time as they wouldn’t adapt well to a video game, but the key events and revelations are still there and are all told as best as they can be. A big part of what made the original manga a lot of fun were the characters, and once again I think they’ve been adapted very well, the villains are just as hateful as ever, the heroes are just as likeable, and Beelzebub is such a fun character that they managed to nail incredibly well. 


First off, this game looks great. The characters look like they were taken straight from the anime, they are just brimming with detail and personality, and are just as expressive as their anime counterparts, these are seriously some of the best anime models I’ve ever seen in a video game. There are also a number of new characters that don’t even show up in the anime, and they all contain the same level of Toriyama charm that everyone else does. The world as a whole looks really good as well, despite it all being sand and forest, but the developers still did a really good job at filling both lands with detail and colour, all enhanced by the games lighting, yeah you could argue that a lot of it is just sand but… the game’s called Sand Land what d’you expect. 

Sadly, where the game starts to fall short is the voice acting; now I watched the anime in Japanese dub and played the game in English, and if you want my advice go with the Japanese dub. For the record, not every actor is bad, for starters I really like the villains, Shawn Smith as Supreme Commander Zeu and Seth Fuentes as Muniel do an excellent job in their roles for example, I also give compliments to Kira Buckland as Ann and Alan Adelberg as the King of Sand Land, but everyone else is just okay in my opinion. The one exception to this is Jonathan Lipow as Rao who doesn’t even sound like he’s trying, his performance is so bland and devoid of emotion that it sounds like he’s just reading the words off the script, genuinely one of the most emotionless performances I’ve seen in a while. The game’s soundtrack is fairly good, the overworld’s music really fits a desert setting, with a droning ambience accompanied by string instruments and bongos, it’s strangely soothing at times, almost the type of music you’d want to fall asleep to. Boss music is a little more action packed, it doesn’t go over the top but it still raises the tension a bit more than other songs in the game, boss themes almost remind me a bit of the ones you’d find in 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games, which really isn’t bad because those games always have good soundtracks (let’s be honest, that’s one of the only good things modern day 3D Sonic actually has. 


Sand Land is an open-world game. Straight from the get-go, you have access to a large chunk of the world with only a few sections of it blocked off until a later point in the game. The world is very big and will take a while for you to get from one end to another, luckily, you’ll regularly find areas that you can fast travel to, like towns, campsites or water stations.  

Towns and villages are what you’d expect, they are homes to a number of NPCs that will sell you items, such as materials for vehicles or resources required for healing and buffing, some will give you side quests that you can complete as you’re exploring. Not every settlement will contain every type of shop, and some might not contain any, luckily you have a main hub that contains every kind of shop, including some that you won’t have in any other town. 

Found regularly throughout the world are grottos. Grottos are small caves that contain various materials for crafting and oftentimes chests, possibly acting as a home for someone that’s vacant when you find it (yep, we’re robbing people now, guess we are a demon after all). These are regularly guarded by enemies on the outside and will occasionally be hiding within the grottos. My one problem with these is that the game doesn’t tell us which ones we’ve pillaged and which ones we haven’t. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve found a grotto and killed its guardians only to find the place empty – while the materials will respawn, the chests don’t refill. I would have preferred it if we got some kind of indicator of what ones we’ve found previously, a tick next to the icon or something like that would suffice. 

Also spread throughout the world are various Ruins. These basically act as mini dungeons, filled with enemies, chests and materials, these are also the only places you can find Ancient Coins, which can be given to a certain merchant for more unique goodies. Aside from that, there’s not really any point in exploring the ruins, they don’t even have an end, they just loop over and over, which is a missed opportunity in my opinion, I feel like they could have done a lot more with these. I imagine they could have been like the caves in Elden Ring, where you go through trials and encounters, gathering items and materials, concluding with a mini-boss and getting an award for beating them. As it is, I never found myself seeking these out, only really exploring them if I happened to pass them and wasn’t in a rush. 

My big problem with exploration is how difficult it can be at times to go to certain areas. Side missions and main missions will give you an objective marker on where to go, but to get to some of them you’ll often need to go down very particular paths in order to reach them, and the game doesn’t always tell you how to get to those paths. This has led to me spending ages going down different routes just to try and find the right one to just get to the mission. And before you ask, no, the map is often not much help either. It would have been much better if the objective markers lead you to the path you have to go down instead of just the objective location, it would have saved so much time and would have been much less of a headache. 

Combat and Vehicles

There are two different types of combat in Sand Land, standard melee and vehicular. To start with melee, it’s mostly button mashing, you can press a button in between attacks for unique combo finishers, but you can get away with just mashing a single button. You also have a number of skills that you’ll unlock as you proceed through the game, from an AoE blast of dark energy to just chucking a rock at a group of enemies, and even something called Fury Mode which lets you deal insanely heavy damage for a limited time, sacrificing some movement speed to do so. Using these skills will require you to use some of your dark energy, which can be filled by attacking enemies and restoratives. This type of combat works but isn’t great, it can get a bit tedious after a while and fighting any opponent this way is super easy. Enemy attacks are often indicated via a red ring, so you always know when they’re attacking and are incredibly easy to dodge. Also, Fury Mode is seriously overpowered, it drains your darkness energy really slowly, can decimate regular opponents in only a couple of hits and staggers enemies with almost every attack. Seriously, I used this at the start of a story boss fight and the boss was dead before all my dark energy had drained. 

As for vehicular combat, this is the combat type you’ll likely be using the most. There is a staggering amount of vehicle types, and each one works differently in both combat and exploration. Each vehicle will work better depending on the situation, enemy, and terrain. For example, you’re going to want to use the Battle Tank over the Motorbike when fighting off a group of larger enemies, meanwhile if you’re just driving through the overworld, the Motorbike is much preferable due to its speed. You can carry up to five vehicles at once, with you needing to go back to a camp or base to swap for another one.

Each vehicle comes with two weapons, a main weapon, the type of which depends entirely on the vehicle, and a machine gun. Each vehicle also has a boost metre that also works differently depending on what you’re riding; vehicles that have wheels will have an increase in speed – unlimited if you’re just exploring the world and limited when in a fight – while hover vehicles will lift you into the air for a short time. Once the metre is fully depleted, you’ll have to wait a few seconds for it to recharge. All weapons can be swapped out for better ones you can either craft or are dropped by enemies. 

The way you unlock these varies from each vehicle, some can just be unlocked as you play the game, others will require you to complete a side quest or buy the blueprints from a merchant. Either way it doesn’t matter how you unlock the vehicle; they will all need to be crafted at Ann’s workshop back at your main base. To make these you will need one of each part, a main weapon, a sub weapon, an engine and suspension, which you can get crafting as soon as you find the blueprints so you won’t need to start hunting for them (though you might need to for the parts). Vehicular combat is quite fun, it can get boring at times, but not too often, but like melee combat, it is somewhat easy, which can make it feel even more of a drag at times. 

Side Content

Aside from side quests, there are other types of side content for you to take part in. One you’ll likely spend a decent amount of time on are Bounties. Bounties are what you’d expect them to be, you’re required to hunt down certain individuals, defeat them and collect the rewards for doing so. These opponents are often surrounded by underlings, so you’ll have to fight them as well, these are also the missions that gave me the most headaches when it came to finding them. The rewards you get depends entirely on the bounty, some will just get you some money and maybe a weapon, while others can go as far as awarding you a blueprint for a new vehicle. 

Another side mission is the Races. These are pretty understandable, you’ll go through a course, either on your own or against other racers, and drive to the end as fast as you can. The faster you are, the better a reward you’ll get. I’ll be honest, I was expecting these to be more fun, you don’t go very fast so there’s not much of a thrill when rushing through the courses, honestly, it’s kind of bland. 

The final one that’s noteworthy are the Battle Arenas. Once again, pretty self-explanatory, you enter the arena, either using melee or vehicular combat, and fight a number of opponents and get rewarded for winning. You’ll even have the option to fight against bosses you’ve previously fought here. I don’t really know how else I can explain it, if you enjoy the combat then you’ll enjoy this, if not then it’s best skipped. 

One More Flaw

I’ve already mentioned a few problems that I have with this game but there’s one more I have to mention, one that annoyed me to no end throughout the entire game, repeated voice lines. Now this is nothing new, normally in combat you’ll have allies and enemies repeat the same lines over and over, either when doing an attack or at random, it’s annoying but it’s manageable and can even lead to jokes among groups (for those curious, ours is “You know what they say, the more the merrier”). This game, however, does it worse by having characters not only repeat voice lines but entire conversations over and over again while exploring. Seriously, I’ve heard Beelzebub and Rao have back and forth conversations in the late game that I heard within the first hour. It gets very annoying very quickly and it would have been much preferred if they just had the conversation once and left it at that.

At the end of it all, I feel conflicted with this game. On one hand, I can’t deny that I had fun with it, the vehicular combat is enjoyable, the game looks amazing, and the story is still really good, but there are a number of factors that do hinder it a fair bit. I was prepared to give this game a better rating at first, but the more I played it the more the flaws stood out and they really started to annoy me the further in I went. I do think that this game is consistently fun enough for me to recommend it, but if you just want to experience the story, I’d say just watch the anime. I had very high hopes for this game, and leaving it, I can’t help but be somewhat disappointed. 

RIP Akira Toriyama, 5th April 1955 – 1st March 2024


Elliot Chapman
Anime Amigo and Nerd Consultant

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