Sand Land review: "Feels inferior to what Akira Toriyama constructed years ago"

Sand Land
(Image: © Bandai Namco)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Sand Land offers great vehicle combat and a strong array of customization options, but sluggish brawler combat and a vehicle imbalance with the tank let it down. It's a crying shame that character development gives way to boring corridor missions in the latter stages of the RPG.


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    Neat little character moments

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    Great vehicle combat

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    Expansive customization options


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    Tired combat on foot

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    Boring late-game mission design

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    Vehicle imbalance with the superior tank

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I'm genuinely surprised there aren't more car-based combat games out there. 2015's very underrated Mad Max game filled that niche for a time, and 2023's 2D indie gem Laika: Aged Through Blood spoke to that desire, but now Sand Land, the Akira Toriyama manga adaptation, is here to fill the void in spades. 

Fast Facts

Release date: April 25, 2024
Platform(s): PC, PS5, Xbox Series X, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: In-house
Publisher: Bandai Namco

Both the manga and Bandai Namco's game follow the Demon Prince Beelzebub, as he's recruited for an uncharacteristically altruistic mission to bring water back to the parched desert wasteland by Sheriff Rao. Joined by fellow fiend Thief, the unlikely trio set off on what's effectively a 20-hour road trip journey to thwart an evil king and rebel against an authoritarian government. 

Sand Land has a serviceable plot, but its best character moments happen off the beaten path. Beelzebub isn't all that evil – his dad Lucifer enforces a strict 'gaming time limit' of one hour a day when he's back home, and Sand Land goes to great efforts to prove it's the humans that are the evil, genocidal maniacs via Rao's redemption for inadvertently slaughtering unarmed civilians decades before the game takes place. 

With friends like these

Sand Land

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

It's about 12 hours in when developer Bandai Namco hits the brakes on any semblance of character development. Beelzebub and company progress to the Forest Land region, Sand Land's second biome, where they're imprisoned in endless combat-heavy missions with very little to break up the monotony. I don't think it's an accident that the Forest Land is a bespoke creation, having never appeared in Toriyama's limited manga series, and it feels far inferior to what the late, great storyteller constructed years ago. 

Sand Land's mission design also takes a turn for the worse in these latter stages. The desert biome is vast and open-ended, and consequently gives you a lot of room to play around in with tanks, bikes, hover cars, and more, whereas the Forest Land feels cramped and claustrophobic by comparison. Replacing the open areas are seemingly endless corridor-based missions that have Beelzebub and company just running from point A to B with very little variation. 

And it's when Beelzebub's on his two feet that Sand Land's combat really suffers. There's all the usual tricks of the trade you'd expect to find in a real-time action game: a light attack, a heavy attack, a dodge ability, and special gauge-based skills like a hail of flying fists. The problem here is that it all feels really unresponsive – dodging barely ever works for actually evading damage in close quarters, so you soon get locked into a cycle of running away, closing back in for a quick attack, and repeating the entire process. 

Beelzebub's character and gameplay feel at odds with one another as a result. The Demon Prince batters people senseless in cutscenes with finesse, only for the entire thing to feel like trying to move a stick in mud once I'm able to take direct control of the action. Beelzebub's supposed to be some sort of hardened fighter, but his literal gameplay never manages to match the narrative Sand Land builds up for him. 

Tools of the trade

Sand Land

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

Thankfully, Sand Land's combat is rescued gracefully by its fantastic vehicles. Beelzebub, Rao, and Thief can hop aboard a tank, car, hover car, jumping bipedal bot, motorbike, and more to fight foes with a variety of weaponry like missiles, machine guns, fiery grenades, or even punches. There's a really fun variety of vehicles on offer in Sand Land, and the vehicle combat is undoubtedly the greatest strength of this action-oriented RPG. 

You'll find yourself weaving between tank missiles in the hover car, firing back with your own dual missile pods, or mowing down villainous foot soldiers with a shotgun from the back of the motorbike. It's deliciously fast-paced, the perfect antidote to Sand Land's sluggish brawler combat, and because the vast majority of enemy vehicles use missiles, it feels like a game of dodging and weaving around incoming fire, rather than just plowing headlong through enemy fire with a beasty vehicle like the tank. 

That being said, vehicle match-ups are a bit imbalanced. Sand Land wants you to experiment with pitting motorbikes against cars, or your car against other tanks, but too often you can just resort to using your tank to brute-force your way through any combination of enemy vehicles with its superior armor and firepower. That's even against enemies of a similar level to Beelzebub and company, so the entire thing only gets exacerbated by grinding out levels with side missions. 

Sand Land

(Image credit: Bandai Namco)

"There's a really fun variety of vehicles on offer in Sand Land"

Side activities might grant Beelzebub more XP, and even better vehicle parts like suspension systems and weapons, but all the optional side missions routinely revolve around beating something to a pulp with very little in the way of story. One highlight saw a girl's sight being cured by a demon who collected flowers to brew a medicinal concoction, even after being run away by the girl's grandma, but the vast majority of Sand Land's optional content is a missed opportunity to let us know more about this struggling world. 

Thankfully, the way side-missions mesh with Sand Land's RPG systems is a treat. Progression isn't tied to just Beelzebub's level – it's more in sync with the level of your vehicles and their individual parts. Side missions routinely reward you with better parts, so you can very much feel the difference in your vehicles. One part might enable a target-locking missile system on the car, for example, or flame grenades for the bipedal bot, brilliantly expanding Sand Land's vehicle customization options. 

Sand Land's vehicle combat and customization are absolute triumphs, and vehicle customization interlocking with optional side missions is a great tool for expanding the player's horizon beyond the beaten path. The same can't be said about the rest of the experience, as foot-based combat feels sluggish and the story devolves to shooting things in the face, with character development damn-near halting by the time you reach the final quarter of Sand Land. 


Sand Land was reviewed on PS5, with code provided by the publisher.

Hirun Cryer

Hirun Cryer is a freelance reporter and writer with Gamesradar+ based out of U.K. After earning a degree in American History specializing in journalism, cinema, literature, and history, he stepped into the games writing world, with a focus on shooters, indie games, and RPGs, and has since been the recipient of the MCV 30 Under 30 award for 2021. In his spare time he freelances with other outlets around the industry, practices Japanese, and enjoys contemporary manga and anime.