Akira Toriyama’s Sand Land inspired video game is alive! With a giant booth at SDCC, no one could miss Sand Land’s presence on the convention floor. Not only was there a replica tank from the game, but a giant screen showed various trailers as people waited in line to play. Hoping to experience the demo in the tank, I was only slightly disappointed to be led off to the side of it. The demo, however, makes up for it. Here’s what I learned playing the Sand Land demo at SDCC 2023.
The Sand Land manga was first published back in 2000, with a short run from May to August in Shonen Jump. It features Beelzebub, a demon prince, who teams up with the human Sheriff Rao as they try to hunt down a new supply of water. Fans of Dragon Ball will recognize the iconic art style, as this is one of Akira Toriyama’s projects after the completion of the original Dragon Ball manga. There’s a total of 14 chapters to read, and a new edition will be released this year.
In 2022, a website for Sand Land Project managed by Bandai Namco was launched. It revealed that an anime adaptation of the manga was in the works, with a full release on August 18, 2023. Previews of the anime were held at San Diego Comic Con 2023, but I wasn’t able to make a showing (whomp, whomp). Snippets were shown at the booth, however, and the iconic style of the manga was very present.
Along with the anime, it was announced at Summer Game Fest 2023 that an action RPG inspired by the manga was also in the works. The release date for the game is yet to be revealed, with it only listed as Coming Soon on the official Bandai Namco website. We do know that it will be available on PS4, PS5, PC, and Xbox Series X|S.
The game is focused on bringing down the king as he hoards a giant water supply for himself. The story seems very Mad Max in nature, with a definite lack of water for the common people and a small band of misfits that decide to change it. You primarily play as Beelzebub, though you’re joined by another demon named Thief and Sheriff Rao. There’s lots of exploration, material gathering, and combat — both on-foot and in vehicles.
The action starts right away. I’m being chased by a tunneling sand dragon, the same one seen in the trailer. And it causes massive damage to my supplies. Once I finally escape from it, I get some time to take a small break with the sheriff and Thief to assess the situation.
Without water and food, I’m forced to head to the nearest town to restock and explore the area (though I can’t tell how extensive the town is or what’s inside at this point in the demo, it appears to be a hub of sorts). There’s a water meter in the UI, too, obviously tied to the story, but I didn’t get far enough during my playtime to see how this impacted the game. It’s clear, though, that being without H20 will have drastic consequences.
Quickly, I stumble upon a tank(!), climb in, and take it for a ride. The tank is expectedly slow but extremely fun to drive. It’s equipped with missiles and a machine gun, useful for taking out enemies at a distance, a key part of the game’s combat. You’ll also need the missiles to break through the rock outcroppings to get to certain areas, though it’s hard to tell how much this mechanic will be used in the final product.
While wandering, I come across a variety of enemies — dinosaurs, other tanks, and soldiers loyal to the king. I quickly discover it’s best to stay in my armored transport. Though there’s more traditional combat on foot, where Beelzebub pummels enemies, punching an enemy tank is quite fruitless. Even the Beelzebub’s power move barely makes a scratch against its defense. Though I didn’t reach a point in the demo where I could upgrade my vehicle, the game’s trailers show an upgrade mechanic will be available, though how extensive it is remains to be seen.
Navigation can be a bit confusing, especially in a land that generally looks the same in all directions. It’s a well-executed desert with red rock outcrops and scrub brush groupings, but that doesn’t leave much to signify what direction you’re going.
This is highlighted while driving the tank, as the chassis dictates the direction and can be facing the opposite way as the rest of the tank. The control to move the chassis for aiming weapons is the same as that used to select the direction the tank goes, so if you end up swiveling it around during combat, you need to readjust before moving forward.
I ended up driving backward by accident a few times until I realized I needed to turn my tank the direction I wanted to travel before setting off just to ensure I was going the right way. The best way to remedy this would be to put the firing axis on a different button than that for driving, to keep the two actions separate. I found this issue only while driving the tank, though; driving the buggy was very intuitive.
When exploring on foot, you’ll actually travel faster than in the tank. The upside is that you can check out the smaller nooks and crannies of the environment, harvest gems, and get used to fighting in an area with weak enemies.
The dinosaurs are easily killed with just a couple of basic fast attacks comprised of punches and kicks. You can also execute a special move, powering up and releasing a column of purple energy around you, as seen in the announcement trailer. The combat is straightforward, with only a few different attacks you can use, though they can be strung together to form combos.
The basic attacks are all mapped to the face buttons, while special attacks are used via the right triggers. You’re prone to getting surrounded by multiple enemies constantly, so dodging and evading attacks will become key as you start facing bosses further into the game. Once you have the strongest attacks and a pattern going, fighting becomes more muscle memory than anything.
I had a great time launching missiles at dinosaurs and just tanking around the dunes. There are gem outcroppings you can punch to gather materials. The banter between the three party members is great, with the voice acting really bringing out the playful nature of Beelzebub. The art style of Akira Toriyama is perfectly captured throughout the experience and made me feel especially nostalgic.
The demo was fun, with playful characters and richly colored landscapes. The fighting mechanics are easy to grasp, and I loved that I could actually try to punch through a tank without being stopped. While aiming the tank and then facing the right direction to drive is less intuitive than I would’ve liked, driving itself was easy to pick up when in the buggy. Once you get the hang of the tank, whether you change the control settings or through practice, exploration is set to be much more fun.