Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?

Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Broderbund Software scored probably their biggest hit with this series. Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego is a popular PC “edutaiment” game (with many spin-offs) where players track down the title villain, a former detective for Acme who decided to turn to crime, and her henchmen of VILE (short for Villains’ International League of Evil), which is surprisingly equal opportunity. It’s mentioned in many games and some of the spin-off media we’re talking about in this article (as well as the short-lived DC comic) that Carmen only turned to crime for the challenge. Being a kids franchise, Carmen is able to steal things that should be impossible, like lakes, Mount Rushmore, and things like that.

The question comes with how you portray the games in TV form. Two game shows and a cartoon all tried to figure that out, and some recent conversations on Twitter, as well as a recent episode of Game Show Reviewer, a review show that posts to a website that also features a number of my RU comrades, brought these all to mind, and they have some darn good intros. I don’t usually talk about game show intros because (a) they aren’t storytelling entertainment and that’s what BW Media Spotlight is about and (b) they just introduce the players and hosts and you can rarely hear the music until the closing credits. The Carmen Sandiego games are a different story.

The first game show came about because a National Geographic study that showed many people are poor at geography. The Carmen Sandiego video games exist to help educate kids about world and US geography. (There are spin-offs for other areas including math, a popular edutainment topic.) PBS decided to make the game into a game show, featuring a well-loved theme song performed by Rockapella. However, this isn’t “My Favorite Outros” so you’ll have to hunt that down yourself. We’re here for the intro.

There is another version of the intro where the Chief gave the report to the agents AFTER Greg comes into the office, which I prefer for the flow, but this version actually has a title for the case, like an episode of a story. That’s one of the differences of this game show; there are stories mixed into the game play. While each game followed a similar formula (check out the review I linked to in the introduction) there are characters and stories weaved in and I like that. At some point, however, PBS and/or the producers decided to switch to teaching kids about history. Luckily, Broderbund had done a spin-off in that vein, Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego, which was even released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. (Which is how I got to play it, although I did play the regular one on my cousin’s computer back in the day.) And so the next game show was born.

This is from season 2, and for their budget that’s pretty darn cool. I love Rockapella. I think I heard “Zombie Jamboree” before Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego aired, but I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong. However, I kind of like Where In Time‘s theme song a bit better. Like its predecessor, this show maintained a story, only instead of training recruits, the “time pilots” kept the Chronoskimmer powered by “fact fuel” and certain rounds required them to come up with a lot after the ship had been attacked. Again, see the review above.

Around the time of the shows, Fox Kids greenlit an animated series based on the games and separate from the game shows. They didn’t even keep Lynn Thigpen as the Chief, even though she played the role in a number of the games. Instead of using an existing game title (maybe to not be confused with the game shows) we had the original title Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego.

When DIC gets a show wrong, they really get it wrong. But when they get it right it’s a thing of beauty like this show. A great orchestral style score with some great singing. The animation, as most episodes were, is fantastic and introduces you to the characters, Carmen herself, Ivy, Zack, the computerized Chief, and the live-action kid only referred to as “player”. In this series, the player really just sends the detective siblings to their location. The Chief breaks out the exposition needed to solve the case, and the detectives do the actual solving. The episode would start with her latest crime, then before the first commercial break she’d taunt the player. After the heroes won and Carmen escaped, she’d trade jabs with the player again with “until next crime”.

It’s here that we learn a lot about Carmen as a person as well. One episode actually involved a flashback to when Carmen was an ACME agent and more than once she actually rescued the current agents from potential death. She may steal things for the challenge but she believes in the sanctity of life. She isn’t quite the evil person we saw in the When In Time opening. She’s only doing this for kicks and respects her opponents for giving her that challenge. If I had a list of great fictional villains I like watching, this version of Carmen would be on the list.

These are great adaptations to a great video game series and all of it can be enjoyed as much by adults as by the young audience they’re made for, and kudos to Broderbund for that.

About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

2 responses »

  1. […] As the intro showed she doesn’t in the regular series. As for the introduction, that’s already been reviewed for My Favorite Intros but it’s perfect. You get a sense of the clues Carmen leaves, how Ivy […]

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  2. […] He uses G4’s old Arena show as an example, though I’m surprised Nick Arcade wasn’t brought up once, but I grew up with Starcade and I think one other video game and trivia competition show that wasn’t The Video Game (anybody remember that nightmare? It even had Harvey from classic Double Dare, showing that he actually went up in his career). The 90s would also give us Video Power, with the second season ditching it’s old formula of tips and a cartoon for a more interesting game show format. Also interesting is that Johnny Arcade was better in that format and he didn’t always seem like he knew what he was doing on occasions. You’ll never make Whomp ‘Em sound exciting, man. Stop trying! And of course there were the two Carmen Sandiego game shows. […]

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