Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego?

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 23, 2008

Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego? is an educational game released in 1986 by Brøderbund Software, Inc. for DOS, Amiga, Apple II, and Commodore 64. I’ll review the DOS version.

We begin by learning that some crime has been committed, and we’re given a deadline for solving it–about a week, in the games I played.

The Great Serpent Mound has been stolen by a masked female! Who ya gonna call?

Once we’re told of the crime, we’re dropped in the city where it took place, so we can begin to investigate. There’s a little information about the city (education!) together with a fairly nice picture, and we have the option of questioning witnesses, leaving for another city, or putting what we know about the thief into the crime computer to figure out who the thief is and get a warrant.

Each city has three locations you can visit to question witnesses. Questioning them takes times, and there’s a deadline, so if you just need to know where the thief is headed, you don’t have to talk to all three people–only as many as it takes to learn the thief’s destination.

The witnesses generally tell you some clue to where the thief was headed next, together occasionally with a little information about the thief. In this case, the comment about the Bears tells us that the thief’s favorite sport is (according to wikipedia) football, which we can use to narrow down the list of suspects.

Once we know where the thief headed, we can go there, and question the residents of the new city to discover more about the thief.

If we don’t know enough–if we only know the thief’s sex and favorite sport, for example–the crime computer can only tell us who the possible suspects are, and we have to keep searching for more evidence to discover the thief’s identity.

Once we have enough information to positively identify the thief, though, the crime computer will issue a warrant, and all that’s left is to follow the thief to the next city or two and eventually catch her.

Success! Once again the day is saved, thanks to my rudimentary detective skills.

I’m guessing the game was intended for children around ten years old or younger. Despite the young intended audience, Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego? is really quite good. The graphics are nice, the game’s mechanic works, and kids may even accidentally absorb some knowledge about geography while playing it. It’s a little too simple for adults to play for long, but fans of educational games will surely want to give it a try, if only to see an early entry in the series which spawned over a dozen games, a similar number of books, and several television programs.

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