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June 2024

Sand Land

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: ILCA, Inc.
Release Date: April 26, 2024


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PS5 Review - 'Sand Land'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 26, 2024 @ 12:10 a.m. PDT

Sand Land is an action RPG based on the popular manga created by Akira Toriyama, the author of Dragon Ball and Dr. Slump.

Sand Land is set in the not-so-distant future, when humanity's constant warring with itself has reduced the world to a barren desert — a sand land — where people are struggling to survive. It isn't just people who are suffering. Our protagonist, Beelzebub, is the demon son of the evil king Lucifer, and even demons struggle to survive in this wasteland. (In this case, demons are more like charming pranksters than doers of evil.) Things come to a head one day when Rao, a human from a nearby town, visits the demons with a proposition: They team up to find a legendary oasis that's said to be in the south. Together, humans and demons can work together for the betterment of both. Such an adventure can't be turned down, and Beelzebub, Rao and an increasingly large cast of eccentric characters set off together to find a source of hope in the dusty wastes.

Despite being bluntly one of those anime tie-in games that assumes you have some knowledge of the franchise, Sand Land does a good job of conveying the basic plot, character and tone of the series. It's a series that veers between raw goofiness and genuine melancholy, and it has a tremendously likable cast. It's absurd and silly, but that works in its favor. Sand Land would be accessible even if you've never read the manga or seen the anime, as long as you can appreciate Akiya Toriyama's sense of humor.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe Sand Land is that it is an open-world game that's clearly designed for a younger audience than most open-world games, but it's not so simple that it lacks value otherwise. As you venture into the titular sandland, you'll be given a huge, Mad Max-style world to explore. There are hidden treasures, side-quests, enemies to hunt and fight, collectibles and loot, and yes, even the infamous towers that unlock the location of important objects on the map.

It's a very familiar-feeling game style. If you've experienced an open-world game, then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. There's clearly been a lot of effort expended on making the world of Sand Land a place that is fun to explore. While it may be simple, that makes it an excellent choice for a younger audience who might be overwhelmed by some of the more complex open-world offerings.

There are some more focused things to do if you are overwhelmed by choice. Early on, you'll unlock a town that you can build up by doing side-quests around the world to find weirdos to move into your town. This helps flesh out the world and can also unlock useful gear, items or services that make it easier to power up your character. There's also the main plot, but beyond needing it to unlock certain abilities or vehicles, it's something you can ignore for hours without missing much.

There are two types of combat in Sand Land. One is on-foot combat, where Beelzebub uses his fists and demonic powers to beat up foes. This is probably the least compelling part of the game. On-foot combat feels stiff and awkward, frequently devolving into mashing buttons to deal as much damage as possible. You can unlock special skills for Beelzebub and for his ally characters, and the basic skills can be worked into combos.

It's a shame this particular bit of combat is a drag; there's no reason it should be. All the makings of a fun combat system are present, but everything feels too slow and awkward, and nothing seems to flow together well. Thankfully, it is simple enough that it isn't likely to be a roadblock, but I rarely felt excited to put Beelzebub's fists to the tests.

The real star of the show is the tank combat, which is more akin to a mech game than a tank game. You control a tank, but it's sort of an adorable weapon of mass destruction that you can pile up with missiles and guns. You can move around freely, and your weapons rotate, so you're often able to circle strafe around enemies. Ammunition is infinite, but you have to reload after a certain number of shots.

The cool thing is that you don't have only one tank. Instead, there's a variety of tanks and bots that you can find throughout the game, each with their own distinct gimmicks. There are bipedal bots that can jump, cars that are faster at getting around than tanks, or speedy buggies that can make jumps that the tanks can't. Each has their own set of potential weapons and abilities to unlock. Obviously, a tank is the best for straight-up combat, but if you're in an area with even terrain, you might do better with a jump bot that can move more quickly. You can even carry multiple different types of machines in Dragonball-style capsules that allow you to swap at will or bring your tank into deep caves that require on-foot traversal.

Tank combat is fun. It's not exceptional, but there's enough customization and variety to keep things interesting throughout the fights. Boss fights usually utilize gimmicks, such as hiding behind rocks to lure an enemy close enough to be within your tank's firing range. While none of them are super tough, there's a reward for properly playing through them.

Even gathering and customizing your tank is fun. There's a lot of different options, including different visual customizations, and it's easy to get caught up in open-world activities for the fun of unlocking new parts or new aesthetic choices. The bulk of the game is a solid loop of activity, which leads to loot and then leads to more difficult activity. If you're a fan of the Sand Land franchise, it's easily a must-have game, regardless of its simplicity. It's clearly a labor of love with a lot of care put into it.

The visuals are largely great. By this point, video games have managed to convert Akira Toriyama's art style to 3D almost perfectly, and Sand Land frequently looks excellent. The character models are bright, colorful, and well animated, and the vehicles get a ton of love. The environments can be a touch plain at times, but a good chunk of that can be chalked up to it being a world of endless sand. The voice acting is largely excellent, with a surprisingly great dub track that perfectly captures the tone of the game.

Sand Land is a competent and occasionally excellent anime tie-in game. It's a good way to experience the franchise for the first time, and even if you're not a Sand Land fan, I can see it scratching the itch for a simple, open-world experience. It might be a tad too easy for more hardcore gamers, but for younger players, it seems like a great introduction to open-world gameplay.

Score: 8.0/10

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