Sand Land Preview

Sand Land, the open world adaptation of Akira Toriyama's standalone manga, has real potential. And honestly, that surprised us, because we had this game (perhaps unfairly) tagged as another somewhat underwhelming Bandai Namco tie-in. But now, having played through several hours of the adventure ourselves, we think this could be one of the publisher's best projects in years.

You play as Beelzebub, a plucky demon prince who, much to his displeasure, gets wrapped up in humanity's struggle for survival. Set in a seemingly endless desert, the game's an engaging blend of exploration and combat, and much of what you do seems to be in service of levelling up both Beelzebub and his selection of vehicles.

Yep, our horned hero has access to a rather rotund tank, a gun-toting motorbike, and even a hulking mech suit. You can switch between the machines at any time, each of them sporting their own strengths, weaknesses, and weaponry. For example, we stumbled across some ruins that were inaccessible without the mech suit's boost jump, and traversing the vast Sand Land itself would be a nightmare without hopping aboard something that has treads or wheels.

There's a really nice rhythm to Sand Land's gameplay, as you swap between vehicles both in and out of combat. While Beelzebub is perfectly capable of punching humans and moderately-sized monsters into submission thanks to his demonic strength, grappling with huge beasts and enemy machines requires some additional firepower.

Thankfully, the controls are straightforward and the action combat is easy to understand right off the bat. With the tank, you'll be strafing around targets and shelling them when there's an opening, while the mech suit can block incoming attacks before retaliating with its huge metal fists. It just feels fun to play, and there seems to be a pleasing degree of enemy variety, especially with optional bosses dotted around the open world.

There's just one aspect of Sand Land's gameplay that we haven't been able to experience, and that's the grind. You see, all of Beelzebub's vehicles can be upgraded and customised using resources that you gather while exploring. Based on what we've played, it's hard to tell just how much hoarding you'll need to do in order to keep both Beelzebub and his arsenal at the appropriate levels. If Sand Land nails its progression systems, we really could be onto a winner — but it'll have to make sure that everything's balanced in a way that doesn't detract from the open world's sense of discovery.

The storytelling's also a bit of an unknown at the time of writing this preview. The manga tells a straightforward but charming tale that's filled with fun characters — and that same story is at the heart of this game. However, as will no doubt be the case with the upcoming anime adaptation, the game significantly expands upon the source material, introducing fresh locations and new characters. Establishing an engaging story in an open world release isn't easy, but hopefully Sand Land can do the original manga proud.

With some striking visuals, buttery smooth performance at 60 frames-per-second, and a gameplay loop that already feels fun, our expectations for the full version of Sand Land have been heightened. If you're on the fence, much like we were, then we'd highly recommend checking out the demo for a taste of the game's exploration and combat. Again, this has the potential to be something of a surprise hit when it launches later this month on PS5.

Have you tried Sand Land? Are you looking forward to the full game? Hop aboard your trusty tank and start rolling into the comments section below.