Sand Land blows up the action-RPG formula with tanks

I’m always a little thrilled whenever I hear that a manga series is getting a video game adaptation. As someone who really wants to get deeper into manga, but often feels intimidated by the wealth of options out there, games can serve as an easy entry point for me. For instance, I was recently introduced to the world of One Piece for the first time thanks to One Piece Odyssey. That gave me the primer I always needed on the series, piquing my interest enough to want to know more.

Because of that experience, I was immediately interested in Sand Land when it was announced at this year’s Summer Game Fest live stream. The upcoming action-RPG is the first modern video game adaptation of Sand Land, a short manga series by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama. Set in the wake of a natural disaster that left the world without water, the story follows a motley crew of heroes setting out to find a new supply hidden in the desert world. The video game version will retell that story, letting people like me experience it for the first time.

I already got a taste of what’s to come at this year’s Summer Game Fest, where I played a quick snippet of the game. While I’m not expecting it to be a breakout hit, it seems like it’s doing exactly what I want a project like this to accomplish: It’s getting me interested enough in the source material that I’m already thinking about grabbing the manga.

Desert ride

Developed by ILCA, the studio behind Pokémon Shining Pearl and Brilliant Diamond, Sand Land is a fairly standard action-RPG. It has players controlling Beelzebub and his crew as they trek across vast desert environments in search of water. The core combat system seems par for the course, with some simple slashes and special abilities. That part doesn’t stand out too much from something like Dragon Quest Treasures, but it’s not the real focus here.

Sand Land‘s more intriguing hook is its emphasis on vehicles, which has me far more intrigued. Throughout the adventure, Beelzebub can pilot a range of devices around the world that all have their own controls and functions. I’d quickly get a sense for how that changes gameplay in an exciting opening sequence where I’m driving a jeep toward the screen as a giant sand creature chases me. It’s a practical, but very fun way to introduce driving controls in an over-the-top manner that I hope is present throughout.

A sand creature jumps at a jeep in Sand Land.
Bandai Namco

After escaping that scrape, I was free to roam around a small slice of the open desert. It wasn’t long until I found a shiny new tank sitting in the dunes, so I hopped into the cockpit and took it for a spin. Naturally, that would control much differently than my jeep, but it would also gave me access to a war machine that I could use to wreak havoc on the local raptor population. With both a machine gun and bazooka that I could switch between (reloading one while using the other), I could roll up on unsuspecting enemies and take them out much quicker than I could on foot. Blasting small enemies away with enormous tank shots may sound mean, but hey, it sure is fun.

Vehicles aren’t just for combat, though, and that creates another intriguing dynamic. Once I got into my tank, I remembered that I had seen a rocky wall earlier that seemed like it could be blasted open. Sure enough, I could use my tank to open that up and walk into a hidden area full of resources and raptors. I’m not sure how deep that aspect is in the full game, but I enjoy the idea of vehicles standing in for items that can unlock parts of the world. It’s a bit of a puzzle system that could make for some good open-desert exploration.

Tanks fire at one another in Sand Land.
Bandai Namco

The demo I played would only give me a small taste of what to expect, so I’m not sure what the real scope of the game is yet. Its success will likely hinge on how many vehicles are in the final game, how it can keep a desert environment feeling diverse, and whether or not the simple action-RPG combat has more depth than what I saw. There’s a fair chance that this might be a modest project that’s more for fans than anything. As someone who’s never read the manga, though, I’m already interested in taking the ride — even if just to see Toriyama’s vibrant art style so well-represented in a modern 3D game. If Sand Land can turn me into a fan of the wider series, I’d consider that a success.

Sand Land doesn’t have a release date, but it’s currently in development for PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

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