Before you roast me, I’ll be the first to admit in this Sand Land preview — I have not watched Dragon Ball in my life.

I’m an anime fan, but no, when it comes to the classics, I score quite poorly.

Sand Land gameplay: Combat mode, vehicles, and city development

So yes, Sand Land the game is my first brush with the late Akira Toriyama. All I know so far is that he really liked to draw characters who go through a bottle of hair spray a day just to maintain their look.

In an exclusive Sand Land preview, ONE Esports got the chance to experience the first mission of the game, explore Forest Land — which goes beyond the manga’s source material — and engage in vehicle battles.

Sand Land preview: not what I expected — in a good way

All Sand Land episodes and where to watch them
Credit: Sunrise, Anima, Kamikaze Douga
All Sand Land anime episodes and where to watch them

Without knowing anything, I went into the Sand Land preview blind. All I knew is that it’s open world, there’s lots of sand, a pink-haired demon boy, an old man, and rugged vehicles that reminded me of Mad Max.

The original manga Sand Land was serialized in the Weekly Shonen Jump magazine in 2000. Toriyama only had two initial ideas in mind: to create a story with tanks and an old man. The setting? A desert world with extreme water shortage, where humans and demons struggle to survive.

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Playing as protagonist Beelzebub, a young demon boy, players get to explore this relationship first hand. I commend stories that break the mold and explore relationships that aren’t depicted as much in mainstream media.

Beelzebub, Thief, and Rao in Sand Land anime in ONE Esports featured image for article "Is Sand Land connected to Dragon Ball?"
Credit: ONE Esports, Sunrise, Anima, Kamikaze Douga
Is Sand Land connected to Dragon Ball?

Not really knowing what I was getting into, I was surprised by how distinctive the gameplay is for each sub-mission and playthroughs of the story.

Expectedly during the tutorial, you hop onto a vehicle and get your first taste of the desert. It isn’t just flat and full of sand, of course. There’s many different types of rock outcrops, hills, and valleys, like the Grand Canyon.

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You then learn the basics of fighting as Beelzebub, who possesses a lot of strength in his arms and legs despite his size.

Beelzebub sneaking around at night during the mission "A Tank? Sign me Up!" in Sand Land game
Screenshot by Amanda Tan/ONE Esports

What surprised me heading through sections early, mid, and later into the game is the amount of differentiated gameplay mechanics Sand Land offers.

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Sneaking, maneuvering peculiar vehicles with contrasting specs, jumping, fighting humans, fighting other vehicles, shooting, solving puzzles in ancient ruins during the day and night, and more. It doesn’t feel repetitive, for you’ll be challenged every step of the way.

Even in sections where mechanics are repeated, for example sneaking around other people’s property, it’s different each time as you’ll get to control a different character with distinct objectives.

Sand Land game Wapho Region map screenshot during Joining Forces mission
Screenshot by Amanda Tan/ONE Esports

Of course, with so much choice, right down to detailed vehicle customization, the one thing that confused me are the controls. What’s more, Sand Land being an open world game, sometimes the solutions aren’t straightforward, and I took sometime to solve puzzles.

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Because you get to choose your mode of transport based on what’s best for the terrain or quest, and travel vast distances as the story takes you over so many environments, it’s a lot to take in.

Players get a sense of how big this world is very early on, which is a good thing. You know from the start that you’ve immersed yourself in a high quality, well-made game with an unapologetically rich story, characters, and gameplay.

The Sand Land game releases April 25, 2024 for PlayStation5, PlayStation4, and Xbox Series X|S, and on April 26 for PC via Steam.

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READ MORE: Sand Land anime: Release date, characters, seiyuu, where to watch