When Sand Land was announced at Summer Game Fest, and I heard the term “action-RPG”, I came out expecting a very different game. A half-hour hands-on with the game set me straight – your typical manga or anime adaptation this is not.
Based on the manga by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama (and illustrated in his signature style), Sand Land tells the story of the Fiend Prince Beelzebub, who’s more benevolent than that moniker suggests. Think of this as a fantastical Mad Max; a world of humans, demons, and more has seen its water supplies run dry, with most of the rest hoarded and sold off by a greedy king, leaving the rest of civilization to fight over what they can – often by means of enjoyably weaponized vehicles. Beelzebub – and your – role is to take down that king and return water to this parched world.
It’s a set-up that lends itself well to a game adaptation – my demo takes me past a ramshackle desert town, across wide-open explorable areas, and into hidden routes through sunbaked cliff faces, populated by roving bandits and packs of dinosaurs. That’s coupled with a sense of freedom to approach all of this as you’d like to – you could go roving across the desert on foot, by why would you when you have a dinky Jeep to speed around in? And you could take that Jeep all the way to your objective, but… doesn’t that raider have a tank you could steal instead?
It’s an immediate break from the more linear RPG you might expect, and that’s reflected in the action too. You may still be accruing gear and skill points, but your moment-to-moment interactions are action-based and organic. Beelzebub’s combat out of a vehicle is governed primarily by light and heavy attacks that can be chained together for multiple effects – juggles, area of effect attacks, and more – with additional magical attacks and dashes.
There’s a sense of speed to all this – fights more often than not see you surrounded, forcing you to take evasive action and manage space as much as taking down your opponents directly. The speed only increases in vehicle combat, which feels integral to the game. In my tank (yes of course I stole the tank), I came across an alpha raptor far larger than the normal breed I’d been taking down on foot, and immediately felt the benefit of having high ordnance rounds at my disposal. While I didn’t see it in my time with the game, Sand Land will offer vehicle customization, meaning that swap between on-foot to vehicle combat will seemingly be key to progression, rather than a set piece.
It combines to make for an experience that promises a true adaptation of the original manga, something that uses the source material as the wellspring of its ideas, rather than attempts to squeeze them into a template you might assume would be applied. Sand Land’s most exciting element is its unpredictability – I look forward to seeing more when it arrives.
Sand Land will be released for Xbox Series X|S, stay tuned for more details on a release date.