Announced earlier this 12 months, Bandai Namco’s Sand Land seems to translate a cult Japanese comedian into an open-world journey. Playing it on the ground of Tokyo Game Show, I got here away intrigued concerning the characters and story, however much less thrilled about really enjoying the total recreation.
Sand Land debuted within the 12 months 2000 as a short-lived story of a demon prince exploring a desolate wilderness – therefore the title. Created by Akira Toriyama, a manga artist of main renown for his Dragonball sequence in addition to his contributions to many video games equivalent to Dragon Quest, Sand Land remained a print-only phenomenon till 2023. A feature-length movie debuted this summer season, with this recreation serving as the subsequent multimedia tie-in.
Sand Land Summer Game Fest 2023 Trailer
The demo opens on a robust word, with graphics that lean into its manga origins. All the characters appear to be they’ve wandered onto the display straight from the web page, with thick line artwork giving everybody sharp options. The characters all have character, particularly the protagonist, Beezelbub. He could appear to be an anime model of Hot Stuff the Little Devil (children, ask your grandparents) however from minute one he is on the lookout for journey and motion.
With Beezelbub and his two aged companions driving throughout the desert, the primary problem thrown on the participant is a set piece the place our leads be a focus for an enormous dragon. Beezelbub drives in direction of the digicam because the dragon offers chase; a distance readout on the prime of the display counts down till they attain security. I discovered it powerful to foretell the place the dragon would burrow up and assault, however the car is sturdy sufficient to outlive a number of hits. I feel the one technique is to maintain winding forwards and backwards to forestall the dragon from getting a repair in your heading.
Once they escape, Beezelbub and his buddies arrive in a “village” that’s all however abandoned. The staff has a fast chat earlier than deciding to hunt a extra populous space, and the sport locations a useful visible marker on the HUD. With that, I took off throughout the desert once more, following a transparent path of tire tracks in direction of my objective. We drove previous some wandering dinosaurs—a staple of Toriyama’s works—and some bandits who confirmed passing curiosity in our truck earlier than giving up once I ignored their grenades.
As we approached the set vacation spot, certainly one of Beezelbub’s companions identified a big mark painted on a mountainside, figuring out it as a pirate icon. Befitting a cocky hero, Beezelbub took the information with pleasure, proclaiming he’d beat all of them up. His mates exercised warning, nevertheless it proved to be a moot level as Sand Land mechanically dragged our heroes straight into the pirate’s entice. A line of spikes popped all 4 truck tires, forcing Beezelbub to dismount and battle hand-to-hand.
I might describe the motion in Sand Land as boilerplate: Beezelbub can punch enemies with gentle assaults or wind as much as ship a strong blow. You can maintain down the button to cost the heavy assault or faucet it mid-combo to set off a kick that sends opponents up into the air, giving Beezelbub time to land much more hits earlier than they arrive crashing down. There’s a short-range dodge transfer to keep away from enemy strikes and a lock-on command to maintain the digicam fastened on one risk at a time. A meter fills over time to unlock tremendous assaults, however I can not vouch for his or her usefulness. The one time I triggered it, regardless of having an enemy in my line of sight, they appeared unfazed.
Fighting the pirates proved to be as simple as Beezelbub mentioned; I feel I solely took one hit even because the gang had me surrounded. Much just like the protagonists, I assumed the pirates seemed like enjoyable characters that I might welcome studying extra about. They appear to be barbarians from Fist of the North Star, and I do take pleasure in a foolish recurring foe that poses no risk to the hero however steadfastly continues to assault him.
What occurred subsequent actually stunned me although: After lower than 10 minutes of gameplay, the demo got here to an abrupt finish. I knew Sand Land had solely been introduced over the summer season, however I had anticipated a extra thorough cross-section of the world. I glanced at different demo gamers and it occurred to me that I may need made a mistake. Open-world video games stay or die based mostly on what lies off the crushed path. I had adopted the sport’s directions exactly and rushed straight to the end line. Clearly I needed to come again for a second tour into the desert.
I returned to the Bandai Namco sales space for one more likelihood, by some means fairing worse on the chase sequence this time however nonetheless making it safely to the dried-up village. Instead of triggering the search to mosey onwards, I ran round and tried speaking to the few folks I might discover. They all reacted with excessive shock, assuming that Beezelbub wished to eat their souls. Beezelbub scoffed each time; he should be used to people freaking out round him. I ought to add that every one these conversations had been absolutely animated and voiced, including to the comedy of the poor panicked people who thought their lives had been at risk.
When I lastly did transfer on, I ignored the search marker and the first path to drive freely across the desert. I discovered a cave with three storage chests inside, although I do not know the importance of the objects they contained—it did not appear to be cash or treasure. I additionally discovered a gem deposit in a rocky wall that produced sources when smashed, though a similar-looking boulder close by did not yield any pickups regardless that it clearly reacted to fisticuffs.
I attempted combating the dinosaurs who put up a bigger battle than the pirates however nonetheless could not deal with Beezelbub’s blows. The bandits had been even much less formidable, however they supplied a finer prize of their armored tank. This time round I seen that Beezelbub particularly mentioned out loud, “We ought to beat up these guys and steal their tank,” so the sport was making an attempt to present me a touch that ignoring enemies wasn’t the very best resolution.
Once within the tank, I gained entry to a strong cannon and a heavy machine gun. These weapons made brief work of odd enemies, as a single shell took out dinosaurs in a single blast and despatched bandits operating for the hills, actually. However, I quickly discovered that exploring the desert in an armored car led me to come across a lot stronger beasts, equivalent to a much bigger model of the dinosaurs I had so simply defeated earlier. These bruisers shrugged off direct artillery hearth and charged ahead to smash the tank whereas I struggled to reload.
Again, the demo minimize me off lengthy earlier than the timer set by the Bandai Namco employees chimed. Such is the character of enjoying at a giant occasion like TGS, sadly. Still, my second playthrough justified my curiosity, proving that the demo did certainly supply greater than a leisurely desert drive and a single battle. I left the sales space questioning what number of components might change. If I managed to take the tank into the pirate’s entice, would their spike strip have nonetheless incapacitated my experience? Or would a distinct cutscene play, permitting me to shoot the pirates with out the necessity for melee fight?
The actual query going ahead is how effectively the builders will fill this open world with memorable areas, characters, and loot. I do not know the Sand Land story so I’ve no expectations for the way it could be tailored, however I’ve performed loads of video games that depend on exploration and discovery to ship a satisfying expertise. We’re lower than six months faraway from The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’s launch, a recreation I performed for nearly 200 hours earlier than lastly wrapping the primary story. I might have performed for twice as lengthy, too, had I sought to finish each sidequest.
Obviously I can not anticipate a TGS demo to match to a recreation Nintendo devoted years of time and an untold finances to perfecting, however I can say that Sand Land has a protracted option to go earlier than I’d take into account giving it one other look. Bandai Namco has but to announce a launch date, so maybe the builders may have the sources they should flip this literal sandbox right into a figurative one. At current, the driving, fight, and exploration do not entice me to dig any deeper.