Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego - Retro Reflections - TBT

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego by developer and publisher Broderbund—MS-DOS Throwback Thursday retro reflection written by Hamza. 1985.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

It’s that puzzle-adventure edutainment time of the month again, and this time Carmen Sandiego has gone missing! The first in the long-running Where in... series, the series sees the titular thief committing crimes that are oftentimes comical in nature.

The game starts with an ancient typewriter asking you for your name - or status, as it so bluntly puts it. Here is where the game’s subtle attention to detail first impresses you. If you type in Carmen Sandiego or any of her henchmen/women’ name, the company, Interpol, will reject you on the grounds of your criminal past. It’s a small but neat touch. You take on the role of a rookie tasked to apprehend the criminal mastermind. If you aren’t too well-versed in your geography, you won’t be making much progress - so it’s rather vital you hit the local library first before booting up the game.

Preceding each level is a news-flash that tells you about the new felony by V.I.L.E - Ms. Sandiego’s villainous organisation. After being notified of the stolen item, you are then transported to the city where the V.I.L.E lightning struck. On the left side of the screen is an image of a famous landmark of the city you’re currently in; on the right is where the various activities take place. On the bottom you will find four icons. The first will display the cities you can visit; the second will take you to the map; the third will open a sub-window in which you can enter three different places and interrogate people; and lastly in the fourth, if you pay attention to what the civilians are saying, you can enter the information and issue an arrest warrant, but only if it successfully matches with the description of the villain you’re chasing. If it doesn’t, it will keep rejecting it until you’ve got it right or if the villain escapes. Then it’s game over!

When you’re sent to capture them, you’re usually given till 5pm on Sunday to do it. In game time it means a week. This brings me to a question; if the dossiers of the villains are true in detailing that they’re experts in their field, then how is it that a rookie (meaning you) is able to nab them in a week? But who am I to question game logic?

As I mentioned before, you need to be smarter than a fifth grader, because the civilians only talk in enigmatic-tongues: often dropping useful hints which you can enter in the data icon below. For example, the oft-repeated clue will go something like this: “I saw him leave in a car and it had a blue flag with a white cross on it”. Of course, he is clearly describing the flag of Norway – your next destination. Resorting to Google only gives you this crushing acknowledgement about your pitiful know-how about the world you inhabit. Tut! Tut!

When you travel city to city, and when you land on the right one, a short animation of a sneaky yet harmless robber in the classic get-up will pop-up in the ‘action’ screen. This indicates you’re indeed on the right track. Whenever a civilian says “they’re in town nearby”, this means you have reached the end of your detective hunt and that you can finally apprehend them - provided you correctly entered the data and received a warrant for arrest. A short, smooth animation will start; showing the villain being chased by a trio of policemen. An off-screen scuffle ensues, and if there was no warrant for arrest, then a lone policeman will shuffle back to his police-station, alone, defeated. This brings me to another question; is he sad because he failed to capture the villain, or because two of his friends were killed in the scuffle... that’s something I want to know!

In conclusion, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego is one of MS-DOS’s best games. Very entertaining, humoristic and surprisingly brain-challenging. For those who want an enjoyable game to pass time by or to recommend to their children, then Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego is the perfect choice.

Note: Screenshots from all platforms that were available at the time can be found here at Moby Games.

Score: 9 / 10