Published on March 28th, 2024 | by Nathan Misa

Sand Land PS5 Preview – Toriyama Terrain

ImpulseGamer recently had the welcome opportunity to check out Sand Land, the up-coming video game adaptation of the Japanese manga series of the same name by Akira Toriyama. These are our first-hand impressions of ILCA’s stylish action-role-playing game (RPG).

Did you know that the late Akira Toriyama made a manga series called Sand Land in 2000?

As an Australian millennial who grew up on Dragon Ball Z before-school broadcasts on CheezTV and fumbled playthroughs of Chrono Trigger, Toriyama’s distinctive character designs were matched by few when it came to pure coolness factor. Which is why Sand Land’’s video game debut, (accompanied by a new feature film and web anime television series), was a no-brainer to preview.

Toriyama’s amazing character and world designs are visible right from the get-go in Sand Land’s playable protagonist, Beelzebub, a spiky-haired, pink-skinned demon prince with a perpetually cheeky smirk and effortless charisma, and his companions; human sheriff Rao, an older gentleman with a hell of a stare-down, and comically short demon Thief, who dresses in a Santa Claus outfit to steal supplies from villages on Beelzebub’s orders. From the get-go, the game leans into the distinct look of the manga (and upcoming TV series), with bright colours, thick line art and hyper-stylized expressions.

As the leader of a group of demons, Beelz is feared by the humans of the titular Sand Land region, which is plagued with water shortages, dangerous wildlife and constant hostilities between the Royal Army and regular citizens, who look to the King’s hoarding of water with disdain. The harsh conditions force people to travel through vast deserts using heavily modified vehicles, and this reality forms the crux of Sand Land’s action-adventure gameplay formula.

The four sections of Sand Land I got to play through showed off the game’s semi open-world setting, which is made up of several vast desert areas and isolated townships. As Beelzebub, I was let loose to explore the world both on-foot and in a variety of vehicles (which are deployed via capsule as is a Toriyama tradition). The initial feeling is decidedly anime Mad Max crossed with Dragon Ball that is exactly not post-apocalyptic, but certainly a wild, every demon/man-for-themselves scenario with hostile bandits, animals, monsters and soldiers to shoot down with mounted weaponry such as heavy machine guns, armor piercing rounds, grenade launchers, and the good old-fashioned HE tank shells. The abundance of modern firearms juxtaposed against the colourful art of Toriyama definitely took a bit to process, but it works to help it stand out amongst the crowd of other manga-to-video-game adaptations.

All of the vehicles available to play in the preview build (tanks, hover-cars and speed-bikes) were customizable in designated garages in human settlements dotted across the map. There’s a fair amount of weapon customization on offer as you gain or purchase better guns and ammo and armor to increase your survivability out in the wild; playing around with the Battle Tank, I was able to tweak both the primary and secondary weapon, as well as its engine and suspension parts, and I settled for slower but more powerful armour piecing rounds alongside a lower-damage but high fire-rate mounted machine gun. Visual customization of vehicles is also available, allowing you to choose the paint colours and decals, though I did not spot any substantial visual changes for the vehicle model in the preview build like I’d hoped.

Putting vehicle combat to the test during a mission where Beelzebub had to navigate a series of caves, the gameplay loop in general was enjoyable, but I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that, despite the amazing aesthetic on offer, both exploration and combat was certainly not anything special. The cave section involved a lot of pulling switches to lower and increase water levels to access hard-to-reach areas on the hoverbike, while an end-section giant kraken boss put up a decent challenge that demanded precision and cleverness in dodging enemy attacks, knowing when to reload and cool weaponry, and when to switch between guns to maximize damage.

However, it all feels like the type of exploration and vehicle-based combat that has largely been done before (and better) in other action-RPGs. Every corner I turned, I hoped to find a few more unique hooks to keep exploration and combat feeling fresh. Similarly, the game’s stealth mechanics, introduced during a story-based mission involving breaking out another NPC, disappointingly felt like mindless filler, with wonky enemy detection and only one takedown animation (Beezelbub taps on their shoulder and scares the poor guard to pass out), making things grow old very quickly.

When you’re on-foot, Beelzebub is quick on his feet and has a number of attack options against wandering mobs that is best described as standard-fare action-RPG. He has a basic and charge-up punch attack which can be chained into an air-combo, dodge rolls and several special abilities (finishing moves), such as a rush attack that unleashes a flurry of blows for more devastating damage, and a grab move that lets you spin and throw an enemy into the crowd. Every move was punctuated with flashy animations and elemental bursts of energy, livening up fights with the otherwise low enemy variety of bandits, soldiers and dinosaurs I faced. The preview build revealed a skill tree for Beelzebub and NPC companions, so hopefully further into the game more interesting move-sets can be unlocked to switch up the generally familiar combat systems here.

What kept me entertained throughout the preview, however, is the liveliness and constant character banter between Beelzebub, Rao and Thief. Every story beat was peppered with charming and humorous dialogue, as well as interesting world-building of the state of Sand Land, the independent townships and their rocky relationship with the totalitarian Royal Army, and the dangerous scarcity of water (ironically, however, there are many conveniently placed water sources as they act as health restoration points). The voice-over work for Sand Land’s English dub is also excellent, and it’s really cool to play a game with two older male lead characters playing such prominent roles, with Sherrif Rao acting as a grizzled mentor to the wild Beelzebub.

If Sand Land has a main selling point, it is its intriguing story and faithful adaptation of Toriyama’s world and character designs and larger-than-life characters (the Swimmers being my personal favourites). For all the standard-fare action-RPG gameplay and quest design staples, the setting and the narrative behind why you’re driving around mowing down mobs in your tank and wreaking havoc among the Royal Army to gather precious water is well-told and very entertaining. If the full game can fill the open desert spaces and townships with more interesting content and more ambitious quests, and provide varied explorable landscales (such as the Forest Land section teased in part of the preview build and in trailers) Sand Land can serve up a fun palette cleanser amongst all the bigger-budget titles releasing this year.


Sand Land releases worldwide on 26 April, 2024 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X | S and Microsoft Windows.

About the Author'

A senior writer for and former writer for MMGN and Ninemsn, Nathan has been reviewing video games and interviewing talented developers since 2012. As a nostalgia tragic eternally tied to the glorious 1990s, he's always playing retro gaming classics whenever he's not entrenched in the latest RPG, or talking your ear off about why The First Law book series is better than Game of Thrones - to anyone who dares listen.

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