SNES A Day 195: Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?

Approximate Release Month: May 1993
Genre: Adventure/educational
Developer: Broderbund
Publisher: Hi Tech Expressions

Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego is cute and charming, but there’s not enough variety or depth in the sleuthing to make it worth spending time on.

Every case is the same: the Chief gives you a time period and location where a crime took place, and you have to find the person responsible. You travel to said time period, talk to witnesses, speak with informants, and scan the environment for clues. Each takes a chunk of your limited amount of time, so you have to ration out what actions you’re going to take in each location. There’s a large number of places to visit, so you can’t just guess.

For example, if you choose to scan you might find a graham cracker. As everyone is well aware, a minister in the United States invented graham crackers in 1829. Great! That’s where you go next. Talking to a witness or informant might give you another hint about where to go in case you don’t know the origins of graham crackers or, preferably, give you details about the criminal. You need those details to get an arrest warrant. This means you need to find some unique combination of gender, hair color, eye color, favorite author (huh?), and favorite artist (what?) to winnow down the list of suspects to one. Follow enough clues, and you’ll catch your crook.

The main problem I have with Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego is that the missions feel randomly generated. I don’t know if these are actually designed cases or not, but the clues feel like ad-libs. I played six cases in total and had clues, locations, and a criminal repeat. If this was a way to have “infinite” replayability, it was misguided. It leads to situations like where a witness in the Italian Renaissance knew what the United States is. It’s goofy.

Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego was likely a hit in 1990s school computer labs, but as a home console experience, I don’t think it would have held anyone’s attention. Certainly, it couldn’t today. Games like this need bespoke mysteries to solve to be rewarding to play. Some versions of the game came with a small encyclopedia, and I’d rather have that than this cart.

Next week: The television show ended in 1964, so why not make a The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends game for the Super Nintendo while the iron is hot?

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