Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? (evaluation)
by Russ Ceccola
The Carmen Sandiego series from Broderbund is an established institution in the software industry. The series is so popular that now there are a kids' game show, a cartoon, a board game, and a storybook series planned. In addition, you can buy Carmen Sandiego merchandise directly from Broderbund. If you haven't caught the bug, it's not too late--Broderbund has just released its latest in the popular series, Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?, for the 64.
The other games in the series took players around the world, teaching them about different lands and cities. The first game included the entire world in its domain. The second and third games concentrated on the United States and Europe, respectively. Although more specialized than the first game, these two were just as enjoyable, and they expanded the audience of users. These three games were based on geographical knowledge. Where in Time asks questions about history.
In all of the Carmen titles, you act as a detective for the ACME Detective Agency. Your goal is to find and apprehend Carmen Sandiego or a member of her band of thieves who has made a big heist somewhere within the domain of the game. The starting point of the game is the scene of the crime. Here you pick up clues from people or objects left behind that will point you in the direction of the thief's travels. After you catch the thief, you're promoted to a higher rank, and your status is saved to disk.
As you solve more crimes, the clues given are more difficult, and you have less time to track the thief. If eventually you achieve the highest status, you must use an alias to play again. In effect, your character has been retired. In each game package is a valuable book you use to investigate clues. The first three titles in the series included the World Almanac and American and European travel guides. You'll find The New American Desk Encyclopedia in Where in Time.
Every time I received a new Carmen Sandiego game, I sat and played it for hours. Afterward, it felt as if my brain were about to explode with facts, but I found out later that I had actually retained a lot of the information. Ultimately, that's the goal of the Carmen Sandiego games--to teach youngsters and oldsters alike about geography and history while they're having fun solving a crime in a fast-paced game.
Where in Time is my favorite in the series because of the vast base of knowledge from which it draws. I stumbled upon some facts that I had learned in school, but a lot of the information I had never studied. This time around, Carmen and her gang have stolen a time-travel device called a Chronoskimmer. This allows them to go anywhere in the world anytime, from the year A.D. 400 to the 1950s. You have a Chronoskimmer of your own for tracking down criminals, but the amount of time that you can use it is limited by the Federal Time Travel Commission. In most cases, you have just enough time to identify the criminals from clues, issue a warrant for their arrest, and catch them.
In order to successfully catch a crook, you have to uncover enough information to single out him or her from Carmen's gang of thieves. Some members share physical characteristics, so you usually have to gather three or four clues that uniquely match the thief. If you issue a warrant for the wrong person, you have to begin a new case. The characteristics are gender (given to you by the Chief at the start), hair color, eye color, favorite author, and favorite artist. Once you have a match, a warrant will automatically be issued.
You gain additional clues about the thief if you're on the right trail. If a member of the V.I.L.E. criminal organization pops up when you try for a clue in a location, you'll know you're headed in the right direction. In some locations, if you choose to talk to an informant or witness, you'll be provided with other characteristics. Soon enough, you'll know the criminal, but you'll still have to corner him or her.
As you can imagine, Where in Time can easily have you going in the wrong direction. Don't let that encyclopedia out of your hands if you want to be successful. The game's interface is designed for children and is very easy to use. The left side of the screen contains a picture of the current location, reflecting its time period. On the right are buttons to push below a communication window. These are for time travel, clues, data, and aborting the game.
The graphics in Where in Time are simple, but well drawn. The thief and V.I.L.E. criminals are animated, as is the ACME building elevator that lets you visit the lab and lounge areas. I can't say enough about Where in Time. That's why I selected it as one of my Reviewer's Choices for the 64.
Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? is fun. It challenges you with many cases to solve and facts to discover. I recovered such stolen items as Salvador Dali's moustache and the first Santa Claus, and I laughed at other creative heists. Where in Time has a practical purpose as well. With all the facts I've learned, I'd like to get on "Jeopardy!" some day. Happy sleuthing!
Commodore 64 or 128--$39.95 BRODERBUND SOFTWARE 17 Paul Dr. San Rafael, CA 94903-2101 (415)492-3200