Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego?


Recently I’ve been clearing out boxes of old childhood junk from my parents’ attic. This gives me plenty of opportunities to revisit my youth. Here I have an old 90s computer game: Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego?

Children who grew up in the 80s and 90s may remember the edutainment phenomenon that was Carmen Sandiego. Always dressed in her trademark red trenchcoat and fedora, Carmen Sandiego appeared in games teaching everything from geography to history, as well as a kids’ TV game show and an animated series or two.

A gentleman thief who was also a lady, Carmen and her henchmen pulled off daring heists that forced agents of ACME to show off their knowledge of the subject matter at hand.

And in 1993, Brøderbund Software, Inc., gave us Carmen Sandiego… in spaaaace!

box-cover
Carmen Sandiego, the famous fiendish femme felon in a fedora, stealing the rings of Saturn.

Sadly, the game comes on four 3.5″ floppy disks, and since I haven’t owned a computer with a floppy drive in many years, I can’t just pop the game in and give it another play-through.

disks
Game comes on four fabulous floppy diskettes. Yes, kids, this is where the “save” icon comes from.

But here’s a look at the system requirements. A bright green banner on the front of the box proclaims “works with Windows or DOS.” The game requires a whopping 8 MB of hard drive space to store all of those nifty VGA-quality digital images.

sys-reqs
A truly 90s-era system requirements list.

I can recall that the gameplay was much like any other Carmen Sandiego game. You play as a detective with the ACME Detective Agency. A heist has been committed, and it’s up to you to solve it.

For this game, cracking the case means traveling to the various planets and moons in our solar system, finding clues by talking to witnesses, wiretapping radio transmissions, or launching probes.

You have a certain number of turns to crack the case (represented as a limited amount of fuel for your rocket). If you identify and nab the suspect before your rocketship’s fuel gauge hits E, a goofy little robotic police probe flies off to make the arrest. You win this round!

box-back
I guess that’s the player character on the left? Handsome fellow, eh?

Assisting you in your mission was the VAL 9000 computer. This wisecracking AI companion occasionally gave basic hints: for example, her digitized voice would warn you when your fuel was nearly empty.

But her primary purpose was to provide access to an electronic database that provided categorized information on various astronomical bodies, astronomers, the Sun, and the nine planets. (Pluto. Lest we forget.)

If I remember correctly, there was even a way to launch the game into an “encyclopedia-only” mode, whereby you could access VAL 9000’s articles, but not play the game. This must have been just prior to the time of “PC encyclopedias” on CD-ROM, so it was probably a novel concept for its time.

Convenient access to information at your fingertips. The 90s… what a time to be alive!

val9000
Greetings. She is a VAL 9000 Computer, and she wants to assure you that she is much less murdery than her more famous cousin.

The henchmen had to be tracked down, but also identified in advance. As with most Carmen games, this is essentially a game of Guess Who: you get clues about the perpetrator’s gender, feature, and in this game, favorite astronomer and favorite writer.

You use these clues to narrow down the list of punnily-named suspects. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a single suspect, you issue an arrest warrant.

henchmen
A couple of Carmen’s henchmen in the game manual. Funny how Carmen recognized non-binary genders even then: you can be male or female… or robot, space jellyfish…

And what “deluxe edition” game box would be complete without some kind of bonus? (Even though this was billed as the “deluxe edition”, I think this was just a marketing gimmick.) That’s right, if you buy this game, not only do you get the latest in Brøderbund edutainment: you also get a copy of Peterson’s Guide to Astronomy, a handy pocket reference for ages 12 to adult!

feelie
Random Feelie

And… that’s it for my look at Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego? It’s a shame that I can’t give this game another play. If you came here looking for gameplay action, the best I can do is link you to a Youtube playthrough playlist that someone else posted. Nostalgiate and enjoy!

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