The resurgence of Sand Land is very much a bittersweet moment for fans of the legendary manga artist and character designer Akira Toriyama, after he passed away at the age of 68 in early March 2024. While he was best known as the creator of Dragon Ball around the world, he also contributed to many successful video games during his lifetime – crafting the characters in the famous JRPG series Dragon Quest, the Super Famicom game Chrono Trigger, and even the Xbox 360 title Blue Dragon.

This brings us to Sand Land. Following Toriyama’s success with past hits like Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball, in the year 2000 he released a single volume manga series starring a ragtag trio who set out on an adventure to end the drought in the desert wasteland they call home by finding the “Legendary Spring” and putting a stop to the King's army, who controls Sand Land’s water supply. One event leads to another and before you know it, this unlikely band of heroes becomes the army’s most-wanted enemy.

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Bandai Namco’s new game, developed by the Japanese team at ILCA (One Piece Odyssey), is just one aspect of Sand Land’s revival more than two decades after the original story first debuted in Weekly Shōnen Jump. A movie was released in Japan last year, and most recently an anime series debuted – adding another arc with new characters, villains, and lore. The game also includes this new arc exploring… (spoiler alert) Forest Land. The original Sand Land arc from the manga (which is also featured in the modern media adaptations) is one part of the game, with the adventure eventually moving past this point, much like the anime series. It’s worth noting how Toriyama had a hand in expanding the universe of Sand Land, including the design of Ann – an expert engineer who eventually joins the crusade.

So, with the history lesson about Sand Land out of the way, how does this adventure translate as a video game? As the player, you’ll take control of the Demon Prince Beelzebub, who is supported by a human sheriff named Rao, and Thief – a friend (or should we say fiend) and royal advisor of the prince’s family. Then there are support cast like Beelzebub’s father Lucifer, and eventually, other characters come into play (see the hellish themes here?). Again, if you have already read or watched Sand Land, this will all be very familiar. While the game’s story does mix things up throughout the adventure, the overall skeleton remains intact.

However, enough about this! The game itself is an action RPG featuring real-time combat divided into two parts. There’s the “boots on the ground” playstyle, where you take control of Beelzebub, and then there’s the meatier machine combat – where you pilot all sorts of wasteland and cyberpunk-like vehicles, many of which (unsurprisingly) look like they’re been designed by Dragon Ball’s Capsule Corp.

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Most of your time in this drought-stricken wasteland will be spent travelling from one quest marker to another in the vehicle of your choice. In the early segments you start out with an army tank, which you steal from one of the King’s bases. Over time, you’ll also unlock fast travel, which can drastically speed up mission progress. Like all good RPGs, the most important part in Sand Land is to level up your characters and vehicles – unlocking new abilities for combat, more vehicle options, and more crafting – to ensure you're ready for the next battle. Levelling happens naturally as you progress through the main quest arc and side missions assist this process. The open-world design of the map means you can set out on a main quest and get immediately side-tracked with some other icon or point of interest on the map. This could take on the form of a random event (such as a rescue mission), a bounty, fetch quest, or just some other distraction, potentially putting the main quest on hold (at least for a while). Unlike some other open-world experiences though, Sand Land doesn’t feel quite as overwhelming.

The combat is obviously what links all of this together. You’ll face all sorts of enemies from dinosaurs to the King’s army, and in the later stages of the game you’ll be duking it out against giant creatures, and mowing down big bosses like mechs, giant tanks… and even a self-proclaimed angel hero. The combat is at its best when you’re in a machine, and it’s even more satisfying when you apply an upgrade with some boosted stats or effects, and then return to the battlefield to test it out. Although Beelzebub shows promising signs of power in the manga and anime, the fist fights you’ll partake in and displays of strength aren’t half as spectacular as Dragon Ball. There’s some basic brawling and combos similar to what you’ve probably seen in other Bandai Namco games before, and you can utilise some special moves (in this case fuelled by Beelzebub’s ‘Dark Power’) but these fights don’t always feel quite as enjoyable. Some of the camera angles during these battles can be quite awkward and targeting enemies isn’t always the easiest, either.

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It’s the vehicle battles where your fight against the King’s army feels more impactful and gives you a little more freedom. Here you can call on your team’s powers with special commands and even summon different vehicles mid-fight to get the edge. The controls for vehicles make multitasking a possibility – allowing you to swap between weapons like machine guns and rockets, heal on the fly, automate movement, and call on backup all at once. Your party members can also help out with Rao jumping in his tank and Thief scouring the battlefield for new items and goodies. Eventually, Ann also allows machinery and the effects of certain items to be enhanced.

These battles happen across the entire world map, and throughout the game, you’ll find yourself in dungeon-like locations such as ruins and destroyed battleships that typically lead to pivotal story moments. Unfortunately, these areas can be more like a labyrinth at times, which can make these sections slightly tedious and a bit harder to navigate. You’ll normally fight a lot of enemies until you get to a boss. Some other boss battles can take place out in the main world and even behind enemy lines. You don’t always have the backing of your tank, either – with Beelzebub required to engage in multiple Metal Gear-like stealth missions, which essentially means combat isn't an option.

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Breaking up the fights in ruins and elsewhere are specific vehicle mechanics – required to overcome terrain and even solve some basic puzzles. This includes machines like 'Battle Armor' which can lift objects, the Jump-Bot to reach higher spots on the map, and even a hovercraft which can travel across water. Beelzebub also has the occasional platform-like moment in the game where he’ll be jumping over boulders or hopping across a bunch of crates.

Another important aspect of Sand Land is the crafting mechanic. This allows your crew to upgrade their vehicles and make new machines. You can equip more powerful weapons on vehicles, customise colour palettes and add some other personal touches. Parts can be crafted, discovered and dropped by enemies. You’ll come across unique parts as well, which come with special perks and higher levels of rarity like what you would see in other RPGs.

And this brings us to some other customisation aspects. Early in your adventure, you’ll visit a near-abandoned town called Spino. Beelzebub and his crew agree to revitilise this location and so it becomes one big side quest, where you’ll set out to find individuals with certain skillsets who can help rejuvenate the place. What these NPC bring to Spino varies, from services such as general stores to home décor shops, and much more. Of course this isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this, but it’s still a nice way to recuperate in-between the main missions, and over time your town will develop into a thriving place, matching the energy of other settlements around Sand Land.

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One more location in Spino worth mentioning is your very own room, which is accessed at the back of the garage where you upgrade vehicles. In here is your personal hangout which you can customise however you like. This also channels certain lifestyle sims, where you can change the furniture and themes right down to the wallpapers, floors, and door. You could create a secret hideout, a particular bedroom theme, or deck it out as an extension of the workshop. It’s yet another way you can enjoy some downtime and spend your money in between all of the tank battles. Throughout Sand Land there are all sorts of familiar RPG elements, too. You’ll spend some nights at an inn, rest by campfires with your party, and reactivate radio towers to uncover new landmarks on the map and speed up travel times.

Bringing all of this together is the stunning aesthetics, which match the anime, film, and manga before it. The landscape looks the part and personally reminded us of games like Borderlands. What really brings out the personality in this universe though are the characters, which all have the trademark design traits Toriyama is known for. The characters here would have no problems alongside his creations from Dragon Quest and other series. As for the game’s sound and audio, it matches the mood and delivers the same levels of joy as the recent series. The Japanese and English voice actors for the major characters also appear to be the same, based on the game’s credits.


Sand Land for Xbox Series X|S not only does a great job bringing one of Akira Toriyama’s arguably lesser-known works to life, but is also a lovely way to say goodbye to a man who has had an incredibly huge impact on Japan’s manga and anime industry as well as the world of video games. Although it’s not necessarily an evolutionary experience on the action RPG front, it should still be a fun ride from start to finish for fans of the genre and source material.