Sand Land review: An explosive ride through an Akira Toriyama classic

Capturing the spirit of an original work when adapting it into a game is difficult. But instead of being drawn out, Sand Land perfectly brings the manga to life—and I couldn’t put it down.

Sand Land was originally a short manga released by legendary mangaka Akira Toriyama in the early 2000s. It tells the story of Sheriff Rao and demon prince Beelzebub going on an adventure to bring water back to a land devastated by drought. It was short, sweet, and fully complete—until a few years ago when Bandai Namco announced it would be adapting the manga into an anime and game, featuring an expanded story and new characters created in part by Toriyama before his tragic passing.

Knowing that this might be some of the last original work I get to experience from Toriyama, I took the plunge into a world filled to the brim with sand, demons, and utter nonsense. Now, 30 hours later, I don’t regret the journey—though the road wasn’t without its bumps.

Sand all up in your treads

A Sand Land tank using a special missile attack. i
Customize nearly everything about all of your rides. Image via Bandai Namco

It took around two hours for Sand Land to convince me it isn’t just another open-world anime game attempting to take up my time with side quests and too many cooks in the kitchen. 

Early combat can be clunky because Beelzebub doesn’t have that many combos, and there are moments where you have to swap gears entirely to play a stealth minigame or side-scrolling platformer. This clunkiness initially wore on me but quickly ironed itself out once I got out of the starting area, as the game gives you control over the demon prince and his vehicles, allowing you to dictate exactly how you want to approach almost every situation.

As you unlock more powers for Beelzebub and different assists to call in from your party, battles open up, and you start to feel like a powerful fiend capable of tearing apart even larger enemies with your raw strength and dark abilities. However, I can’t go too in-depth on the hand-to-hand gameplay because I spent most of my time behind the wheel. 

With nearly a dozen different vehicles to customize and pilot, I found myself grinding resources and upgrading parts to test different builds rather than filling out a skill tree. By the end of the game, I had probably finished 70 percent of my fights using a vehicle rather than my fists because the machines were more fun and offered more combat variety.

Not all vehicles are equal, however. I quickly found myself favoring a handful of bots because they were the most fun but also proved to be the most capable in varied combat. For example, some boss fights clearly want you to use a specific vehicle like the motorcycle, but if I could get away with it, I would just hop into the tank and fire my cannon at the problem after getting frustrated with the cycle’s controls. Maybe I didn’t have the right build for these fights since loot drops are mostly randomized, but it felt like there was a clear disparity in vehicle strength by the end of the game. 

Sand Land also falls victim to feeling it needs to use its vehicle variety for things beyond transportation and combat. I’m fine with needing the Jump-Bot to reach high places for some platforming or using the Power Armor to move obstacles, but some of the dungeon puzzles feel unnecessarily repetitive after the seventh room doing the same thing in quick succession. 

A world worth traveling through

Rao, Beelzebub, and Thief running from the a dragon enemy.
The desert throws a lot at you during your travels. Image via Bandai Namco

For a land dominated by sand, Sand Land looks gorgeous and brings Toriyama’s designs to life in ways not typically seen outside of Dragon Ball and Dragon Quest. The entire world feels lived in and tells a story with its environments. 

Traversing the overworld in this game in my tank was a blast, and I spent hours completing bounty-hunting missions or filling in my map just to hear what Rao or Thief would say about the history of the land as it changes—I won’t spoil how since part of it isn’t even in the original material. 

It also helps that you’re rewarded for going out of your way to explore your surroundings. Whether it be clearing out monsters in a cave, delving into ruins, or slipping into a cracked door while digging through a destroyed warship, chests full of supplies and weapon upgrades are around every corner. 

If I have to hear Beelzebub ask Rao about what humans do for a living one more time, however, I might snap. There seem to be only a dozen or so repeating conversations your party can have while traveling outside of missions.

Everything I love about Toriyama’s work

Sand Land's full party discussing their plans.
The characters change alongside the world around them. Screenshot by Dot Esports

I love Dragon Ball, specifically the original series and its focus on Goku and Bulma’s journey on a global quest that gradually develops over time. It was down to earth, never got too big too quickly, and, most importantly, let you spend time with its main characters as they learn and grow together. And that is what I love most about Sand Land, too.

The combat is fun, and the world is cool, but those only matter because you see Beelzebub and the party learn about the world and themselves. And yes, while Beelzebub and Ann have parallels with Goku and Bulma in their personalities at a glance, their roles in this story don’t play into that comparison—even if other Dragon Ball nods are spread throughout. 

Beelzebub is blunt and true to his ideals, Thief is comic relief with world experience, and Ann goes from a wannabe mechanic to someone who wants to change the world for the better. Meanwhile, Rao almost acts as Goku here, embracing new elements of the world to better himself and learning shocking truths about his past as the group pushes forward. 

Most of the villains are one-note, and some side characters could use more love, but the ups and downs of the story help the main cast shine.

More time in the sand

Beezlebub gazing at the entrance of a dungeon.
There is so much to explore across this vast world. Screenshot by Dot Esports

After 30 hours of playtime, I still plan on diving back in for more Sand Land. There are side quests I haven’t finished, vehicle builds I want to test, and I didn’t even touch some features like decorating your own home. And once I wrap up my journey in the game, I want to experience the original manga to see where this gem started. 

Whether you dig Sand Land’s vibes and want to go full Mad Max with its combat or experience one of Akira Toriyama’s classic stories told in a fresh package, Bandai Namco and ILCA sold me on this world and its characters, and if you give it a try, you might just get sucked in like quicksand.



  • Combat is a blast
  • Akira Toriyama designs with next-gen visuals
  • Characters and story make the journey
  • Exponentially rewarded exploration


  • Hit-or-miss boss fights
  • Repetitive road trip conversations

A copy of this game was provided by Bandai Namco for review. Reviewed on PC.

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