Originally published all the way back in 2000 as a standalone manga, it's strange, but not unwelcome, to see Sand Land be revived as both an anime series and a video game almost a quarter of a century later. Authored by the late and legendary Akira Toriyama, Sand Land is an incredibly charming story about a post-apocalyptic world, where a cocky demon prince is roped into helping out what's left of humanity.

Given that the manga consists of just a single volume, it's no surprise to see the anime greatly expand upon the source material — and the game, also just called Sand Land, follows that same path. At its core, this is a retelling of the recently released anime's tale, but thanks to an open world setting, the kingdom of Sand Land itself has never felt so grounded, and its fantastic characters have never been given so much room to breathe.

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You play as the aforementioned demon prince, Beelzebub, as he forfeits the isolation of his fellow fiends in favour of travelling the desert with a grizzled army veteran named Rao. The old man needs help — powerful help — in trying to restore water to Sand Land, and so the adventure begins.

The game's storytelling is well done, sporting some great cutscenes and impressive direction, which really capture the spirit of Sand Land as a property. Just from the prologue alone, it's abundantly clear that this isn't just some quick cash-in; a lot of effort's been funneled into making a faithful adaptation, both in terms of presentation and tone. But at the same time, the game does such a good job of providing a complete experience that you don't need to be at all familiar with the original work in order to enjoy it. And in that sense, Sand Land is something of a benchmark for licensed manga and anime titles.

Gameplay is predominantly explorative, as Beelzebub and his ragtag companions venture from settlement to settlement in search of the so-called 'Legendary Spring'. The map is vast and barren by design, and so a lot of hours will be spent blasting across the sands aboard one of your custom vehicles. From your trusty tank and bipedal combat mech, to your speedy motorbike and cosy four-seater, Sand Land places a heavy emphasis on collecting and building 'bots' so that you can better traverse its blistered environments.

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To start with, you only have access to a select few machines with obvious implementation. Your tank, for example, is your go-to option for vehicular combat since it's equipped with a cannon and heavy armour — but you'll want a bike or a buggy for more efficient travel. However, as you progress through the main questline, you'll gradually unlock more specialised mechs alongside a wide range of customisations that let you tweak your style of play.

There's actually a surprising degree of depth to Sand Land's mechanical endeavours, as you loot, craft, and upgrade parts to stay one step ahead of your enemies. Things do get a little bit grindy in the game's latter half — especially if you want to take down optional bosses — but generally speaking, progression feels smooth and largely rewarding. Getting your hands on a cool new mech, or even just a tank turret that rockets your attack stat, is quite exciting.

Naturally, all of these upgrades and adjustments feed into the title's action combat. While Beelzebub himself is basically superhuman, able to kick overgrown wildlife into submission and shrug gunfire off like it's nothing, he'll still struggle against hulking robots and flying foes. Fortunately, you can carry up to five mechs with you at any time, and swap between them — even in battle — through a radial menu. Combat, therefore, is as much about choosing the right tool for the job as it is actually dodging attacks and retaliating.

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The fundamentals of fighting are fairly basic. Enemy attacks are telegraphed through obvious animations and visual cues, and more often than not, vehicular victory lies in your ability to keep moving, while also making sure that your bullets, rockets, and laser beams are on target. If you're versed in action games, it'll all seem rather easy — even on the 'hard' difficulty — but it's your assortment of gun-toting toys that keep combat interesting. The fact that you're able to approach battles on foot, driving a tank, or piloting a mech, means that there's an enjoyable amount of player agency to go around; it's just a fun system to mess about with.

Gunning down hapless creatures so that you can add yet more materials to your inventory is mindlessly entertaining and all, but the game's action really shines during the core campaign. There are some engaging encounters dotted throughout, many of which are spiced with unique mechanics. In fact, it's the more prolonged battles that strike a chord; having to crunch through waves of enemy tanks is always a joy, and it's these more chaotic, challenging skirmishes that have us wishing the game would let loose just a little more often.

Indeed, the title does stumble now and then, with very specific gameplay elements that feel half-arsed. Stealth is a perfect example; it's only used a few times throughout the entire game — thankfully — but being forced to sneak past enemies that Beelzebub can easily pummel feels arbitrary, like the development team had a box to tick.

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Still, across its 40-hour or so runtime, it's hard not to appreciate how complete Sand Land is — especially when compared to most anime tie-ins. We wouldn't necessarily call it ambitious — many of its mechanics are ultimately tried and tested — but it's rock solid across the board, and there's a lot of meat on its bones.

For instance, outside of the central plot, there are loads of fully voiced side quests that you can undertake, and there's even a broader objective that involves rebuilding — and repopulating — a near-abandoned town named Spino. The location acts as a hub for your journey, and watching it evolve is one of the most pleasing parts of the game.

Speaking of pleasing, Sand Land looks lovely. Toriyama's unmistakable art style goes a long way — the character and mech designs are superb — and it forms the basis for the game's striking visuals. It also runs flawlessly on PS5, maintaining 60 frames-per-second regardless of how busy things get — and the load times are instantaneous.


Broken down into individual pieces, Sand Land doesn't do anything particularly amazing, but when taken as a whole, this is one of the best anime-based games that we've played in a long time. It's got plenty of great story moments, its open world structure is moreish, and combat is satisfyingly solid. A robust and lovingly crafted adventure that charms from start to finish.