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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego Sega Genesis

In this review I'm covering a true classic, Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego. I vividly remember elementary school class days in the computer lab sitting with world almanac in hand searching for flags, currencies and landmarks, in my quest to capture the V.I.L.E. Henchmen and become a master detective. Finding a vintage late eighties or early nineties computer in the proper shape to play it would be a bit difficult for me the moment (though I admit I'd be oh so happy if one were available) so I decided to go with the port on the Sega Genesis.


I have to start off by saying this is an educational game, a way to trick kids into learning. I always liked to learn and world history and geography were just the sort of thing I was really interested in, so I found it rather enjoyable as a child and as an adult as well. However, I recognize this is a haphazard social studies lesson disguised as a video game. Moving on from that,  the basic premise of the game is that you're an agent for the Acme detective agency who's caseload apparently only includes high dollar, high profile robberies of national treasures from around the world.The perpetrators of these crimes are part of the V.I.L.E. crime syndicate lead by a lovely Ms. Carmen Sandiego, a former spy for Monaco. You track down Carmen and her crew by following some really vague tips from eyewitnesses.

The controls are pretty simple, it's converted from a point and click game and is still just point and click but with a controller instead of a mouse.

Graphically this game isn't one of the better genesis titles. There were several changes made to this release, but it still show the signs of being an early PC game. The pictures chosen for each countries "highlight" are highly pixelated, the images of the eyewitness' have some dubious proportions and some border on inappropriate racial stereotyping. Most of the game is static images, but there are some very simple animations, which are nothing spectacular but are highly amusing and one of the best parts of the game.

Sound wise there isn't much: the sound of footsteps, a plane flying and a couple of short midi tracks whenever you're on the right track and catch a glimpse of a V.I.L.E. Henchmen. They add to the ambiance of the game and I'd be sad if they were absent, but they aren't really anything special or particularly memorable.


You start of the game at Acme head quarters by signing in to the crime computer, this is basically so you can save your game and earn a password when you get tired of solving cases. After you sign in, you get a news flash which tells that a priceless world artifact was stolen. You get the name of the artifact, the country location and the sex of the suspect before being told it's up to you to solve the case before 5PM on Sunday. It's Monday morning at 9AM when you start off so you've got 6 days and 8 hours to catch Carmen or her cronies. It might seem like plenty of time, but every time you fly to new area it takes several hours,( the extract number of which depends on how far it is from your current location), getting a warrant takes a couple hours, and a growing detective needs 8- 12 hours of sleep every night (depending on what you're doing when it's past 10PM in the game). That's not even counting the time it takes to investigate the three areas in each location. Making matters worse if you accidentally choose an incorrect location, you have to fly all the way back from the location you left from before you can fly back to the country you should have gone to in the first place.

Now you're all stressed out, worrying about how you're possibly going to be able to fly across the globe , get a warrant, apprehend a criminal and still get your beauty sleep in so little time, but there's no time for that with dangerous criminal afoot so pop a Valium or something and get down to some detective work! The Acme detective agency apparently has a teleporter as you start at headquarters at Monday 9AM and at the scene of the crime was at the exact same time. You may take a moment to breath a sigh of relief as that's at least one bit of flight time you don't have to worry about. Now that you're in the right city, hit the little magnifying glass icon and start searching, you get three locations to investigate, out of nine total locations which vary depending on the city. In each location you'll talk to someone who had some sort of contact with your suspect and they will give you some really vague clues about where they might be headed and possibly some information about the suspect themselves.

This game is intended for children/young adults so if you remember what you learned in basic social studies in high school, you're probably going to know a lot of this information already. If you don't though a World book encyclopedia with all the information you'll need is included with the game. That's making the assumption that you're playing a physical copy that's complete in the box though, if you're playing it cartridge only or via an emulator, there's always search engines to help you along the way. It's also worth noting that this game is 18 years old, so some of the names of the cities and currencies are now incorrect, effectively giving you brief history lesson as well. While I'm on this topic, I have to admit that I have always wondered though how flight attendants and pilots would notice the type of flag the plane was flying and share this information, but not know enough to identify the country by name. These people travel to these places for a living shouldn't they know? (I can forgive the parrot's ignorance) But, I digress.

Once you've sifted through their information you hit the plane button and look at your possible destinations, hopefully you've gleaned enough information to figure out where you're headed. Choose your city/country and head out for another round of investigations. During your investigation you'll see little animations of V.I.L.E. henchmen letting you know you're on the right track. Once you've tracked them to their last location, you'll get animations making it clear that the detective isn't welcome 'round these parts, and if daggers and axes flying at you wasn't enough, the witnesses tell you that you should watch your step. Before you've gotten to this point though, you've hopefully gotten enough information about the suspect to get a warrant.

If you don't have a warrant then when you go to apprehend the suspect they get away and you lose the case. If you've picked up enough information you can just hit the computer button,chose warrant and put in the pertinent information to come up with a single match. However, you should be careful because there are several crooks with similar features and computing takes a couple hours so you should probably take a look through the dossiers to make sure you're going to get an exact match. Additionally sometimes the witnesses don't seem to give you enough information to pin point one crook by the time you get to the last city(especially if you're like me and choose your next destination at the first decisive clue) so you can guess at which one it is and add an additional trait to get the warrant to issue. I find myself curious though, as to why is it that the witnesses can recall how much the criminal did or did not like seafood and share that information with you, but don't think the detective would be interested in what color hair the suspect had. Same thing with note what sort of flag was flying off the vehicle they left in, but not what type of vehicle again... Putting that aside, so long as you've got your warrant you can track to the thief to the last town and capture them effectively.

Once you've captured the criminal successfully, you head back to acme headquarters where you sign in are told that the artifact has been returned to it's original location and let you know how many cases you have to solve until your next promotion. You're then given the option to choose to continue or quit. If you quit, you'll be given a password which will allow you to start from where you left off. Just make sure that you enter your name in exactly the same way as well. The game basically continues in this way until you've solved enough cases to become a master detective and capture Carmen herself. It honestly gets pretty repetitive and since there's a limited amount of countries, you'll probably become very familiar with flags, currencies and popular landmarks if you weren't already.


I can't say that this particular version of the game has stood the test of time particularly well. I've got a soft spot for educational games, and a penchant for recalling Jeopardy-esque useless information so it's got a lot of appeal for me. For someone not as interested in the educational game genre though this is going to get pretty old pretty quick. I can say though that it is a classic, I can't think of a single person over 20 that didn't get at least some of their social studies learning from a game or two of Carmen Sandiego. It's spawned countless games and variations as well as two TV shows and while the copy I reviewed may be old with some obsolete information, these games were popular for good reason. They're full of information and they're fun. This version of the game does have some life left in it though and it's interesting to note all the changes the world has gone through in almost two decades, besides if you're reading this there's a good chance you're a vintage gamer anyway so you probably remember when there were still francs and deutschmarks.


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1 comment:

  1. thanks for sharing ^_^
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