Sand Land Is a Video-Game Love Letter to Weird Little Guys

Mad Max, but make it cute.

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Beezlebub, the protagonist of Sand Land
Bandai Namco

I approach the gaggle of knee-high dinosaurs as stealthily as possible in my clackety egg-shaped tank, then unload a barrage of bullets with the accuracy of a wiggly backyard hose.

A large mother dino appears, and she’s none too pleased. She wastes no time in unleashing her rage, and my tank wobbles worryingly as I wrangle with the controls to put some distance between us. I’m slowly chipping away at her, when bigger quarry ambles in, with an even bigger chip on its shoulder.

You know that corny old joke where a big fish eats a small fish, then a shark eats the big fish? It’s a lot less funny when it’s happening to you.

Just a metal egg between you and doom.

Bandai Namco

Despite the dusty desert landscapes, my brief Summer Game Fest demo of Sand Land earlier this month proved that this is an adventure where there’s always a bigger fish — and another untrustworthy vehicle.

I was also tasked with outmaneuvering a Geji Dragon, an overgrown salamander who was somehow convinced I had the secret to eternal life stashed under the seats of my rickety golf cart. The chase was thrilling, and the fact that my vehicle handled as though it were about to disintegrate at any moment made it all the more exciting.

This guy isn’t messing around.

Bandai Namco

The upcoming action RPG from Bandai Namco and Akira Toriyama — creator of Dragon Ball and lead character designer for Dragon Quest — adapts a self-contained manga story that first ran in Shonen Jump back in 2000. The premise is pretty evident from the title: Sand Land takes place in a future dystopia where water is scarce. Hardscrabble desert scavengers live in ramshackle towns, foraging for supplies and sustenance where they can. Everything feels like it’s held together with duct tape and crossed fingers.

It’s kinda like Mad Max or Fist of the North Star, but a lot cuter.

But Sand Land is first and foremost a showcase of Toriyama’s formidable artistic talents. There’s no mistaking the mind behind these designs, and the cel-shaded characters leap off the screen, the stuff of ‘90s-kid daydreams made enticingly manifest. Toriyama is a master at creating both strapping heroes and kooky gremlins. But the kinds of muscly meatheads that populate DBZ by the dozens are nowhere to be seen. This is the Island of Misfit Toys, and oddballs abound.

A motley crew indeed.

Bandai Namco

Our protagonist Beelzebub is a knee-high, Pepto Bismol pink demon prince, made entirely of sharp angles — spiked hair, fangs, and long elfin ears. He’s instantly likeable, as is the company he keeps: two odd coots with exquisite facial hair called Rao and Thief. (Three guesses as to the latter’s profession.) Beelzebub and his companions must take to the open road to discover a new water source, because a greedy king has decided to keep it all for himself. Because that’s what kings do, amirite?

Sand Land was one of my favorite reveals from the Summer Game Fest showcase, by merits of its visuals and artistic pedigree alone. Getting the chance to take the game for an (unwieldy) spin made me even more excited to dive deeper into this dusty, idiosyncratic adventure.

Sand Land is currently in development for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC.

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