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Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? – Sega Master System

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? – Sega Master System

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? - Sega Master SystemPlatform:  Sega Master System

Release Date:  1988

Developer:  Brøderbund Software

Publisher:  Brøderbund Software

Genre:  Edutainment

Nerd Rating:  8 out of 10

For an educational game from the mid-80’s, this Master System port of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is surprisingly fun, and by the end of it you will have inadvertently picked up a few facts about history and geography (at least as it existed back then, with the Soviet Union as a country and a few other differences).  Make no mistake, this is not the PC version that most people probably remember from the time period with the entirely text-based interface.  This version attempts to inject some rudimentary action into the gameplay, and while it isn’t much, it does feel a bit more like a video game as opposed to clicking on short phrases.

Not the old 80's Carmen Sandiego that most people are familiar with.

Not the old 80’s Carmen Sandiego that most people are familiar with.

The concept is pretty much the same as any Carmen Sandiego game: using clues from witnesses, the player (as the detective) must track down the criminal using one’s knowledge of geography and history.  Along the way the player also gathers information about the specific culprit, information which is then used to obtain an arrest warrant.  If the player can track down the criminal within the allotted time frame and possesses the correct arrest warrant then the authorities will make an arrest and the assignment is considered complete.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? - Sega Master SystemThe clues and information given in Where in the World are based around 30 locations throughout the globe.  There’s also an adjustable difficulty spanning 5 different “ranks,” with each successive rank involving harder clues, more locations to cover, and a more difficult “final confrontation” with the perpetrator.  For a more immersive experience the player can move through the ranks organically, starting at the bottom and progressing up the ladder through the successful completion of cases.  Alternatively, the player can choose their difficulty from the beginning.  Why does this matter?  Aside from the challenge level, the only way to “beat the game” is to push forward at the highest difficulty and hopefully apprehend Carmen Sandiego herself!

A lot of older edutainment games tend to follow a simple formula which is almost completely based on the answers to a few questions.  Once you start memorizing a half a dozen questions or so, the game becomes perfunctory and drab.  However, with the adjustable difficulty and 30 different locations and some conscientious attention to detail, Broderbund did am excellent job of keeping this game fresh round after round, and you’ll find yourself learning little facts left and right.  I should mention that the gameplay is enhanced considerably by having access to the included “Detective’s Almanac.”  (I’ve had the good fortune of procuring several SMS games with their box and manuals intact.)  Sure, you can start Googling the answers, but the Detective’s Almanac is really the way to go, with just the right amount of information on each country and a color spread with each country’s flag.

(Note that the instruction manual is not the same as the Almanac; 2 booklets were included with the game.  If you have a copy of the game sans the Detective’s Almanac booklet, let me know via email and I’ll be glad to scan my copy for future use.)

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? - Sega Master System

blip-blip blip-blip-blip-blip blip-blipblip blip blip blipblip-blip-blip blip-blip

Each assignment begins with a very laborious plod through each and every letter of a message being typed on a typewriter.  Thankfully this process can be sped up by holding Button 2, a feature I wasn’t aware of for the first hour or so.  This will explain that a crime has been committed; what treasure was stolen, where from, and whether the suspect was a male or female.  The assignment begins at 7am on a Monday, and the player has until 17:00 hours on Sunday to make the arrest (that’s 5pm).

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? - Sega Master SystemThe player then lands in an airplane in the city where the crime is committed.  The player is free to roam around a small linear stretch with a few buildings, using each to talk to witnesses.  Each time a stop is made a few hours pass, so it’s best to not waste time gathering more clues than necessary.  During each 24 hour period there are 9 hours devoted to sleep (between 10pm and 7am or as close to that as possible with flights taken into account) and a few hours are also given over towards the flights themselves.  Figuring out where the criminal is going next isn’t too hard – I always make my first stop the airport which shows the options for the next location.  With this information in mind beforehand, it’s easier to put the witnesses’ clues together (and stopping by the airport doesn’t take up any time!).  The difficult part is collecting details about the culprit, which can become increasingly sparse as one increases in rank, especially when you’re trying to make quick progress.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? - Sega Master System

Just hangin out….lookin’ for bad guys in Peru…

This process repeats location after location.  Backtracking can be extremely time consuming (not to mention difficult to get back on track) so it’s best to know exactly where you’re going ahead of time.  Witnesses in the wrong location will quickly let you know they know nothing, but if you’re in the right place, a V.I.L.E. henchman will pop up periodically and throw a knife at you!  The player must move, duck, or jump to avoid these projectiles; if hit, it will cost a few hours to recuperate.  Each successive hit takes even more time to recover from, so mastering this small action-esque facet of gameplay is important.

Each location also contains an Interpol booth, where the player punches in the clues learned about the perpetrator: sex, hair color, “feature,” automobile, and/or hobby.  Generally 3 of these are good enough to narrow the field down, after which Interpol will bestow the player with an arrest warrant.  Once you’ve found yourself in the same location as the criminal, he/she will pop up and actually start shooting at you!  These can be tough to dodge, and any attempts made by the player to rush the bad guy will result in his/her retreat and reloading at least one bullet.  When the criminal’s ammo is spent (usually 3 to 5 bullets by my count), the police will come and escort the criminal away and the assignment is complete!

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? - Sega Master SystemEven with the minimal action, walking around a little bit and dodging goons definitely gives Where in the World a more game-like feeling.  I had a lot of trouble dodging the projectiles though; if at the top of the screen I could quickly shimmy down to the bottom, but elsewhere I was forced to either jump or duck, neither of which I could time right.  Often this led to several hours being lost (as much as 10 hours after catching a single bullet) so I did my best to chase the crook down as quickly as possible to account for all those damn injuries.  Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know, but if I had one complaint, I do think that this small mechanic could’ve used a tweak or two.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? may be slightly repetitive, though the race against the clock gives the game an urgency absent other attempts to educate in gaming form.  It’s not just about cramming as many questions in as possible or exhausting a subject, the game actually wants you to push forward while making the most out of as little information as possible.  This SMS port may not illicit the same amount of nostalgia as the old text-based adventure, but tracking down Carmen Sandiego herself may become a little more addictive than you’d think.  This game was far more engrossing than I had thought it’d be, owing to its high quality core gameplay and deft mixture of education with gaming-oriented tasks and objectives.  In addition to the history and geography presented throughout, I could also see it building early research skills….not like you’re likely to be playing Carmen Sandiego for any of these reasons, but I believe that gauging the intent is important.

The Master System version of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? comes off as a little dated, but it’s got that addictive sort of gameplay reminiscent of a good puzzle game.  The educational value might be limited nowadays, but the entertainment value is more than sufficient for the retro fan.

Reviewed by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist

Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

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One Comment

  1. So far it looks like you’re enjoying your time with the SMS!


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