Top 100 Retro Games: Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego?

Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego
Apple IIC

The Carmen San Diego series was a big part of many people in and around my ages childhoods. The Edutainment genre was huge at this time and games like this, Oregon Trail, Math Blaster, and others were very popular. They were the kind of games that ended up in schools, or justifications for kids getting computers or Nintendo because they were “educational.” Or something.

We owned both Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego and Where In The USA Is Carmen San Diego. They came with big books offering information and clues to the game. We did not own Where In Time Is Carmen San Diego though and I did not really play it until many years later.

I have many memories of these games. My mother recalls how so many parents and teachers scolded her for allowing me to have a Nintendo. “It would make things even worse for him,” they would say. They thought it would be a barrier to my social development and hinder my learning. Well, two promotions and one award of tenure later, while carrying a triforce replica on my key chain into class each day, I certainly showed them.

The Carmen San Diego games, however, were pretty encouraged because they had an educational bent to them. Frankly, I did learn a lot from playing the games in this series, but especially the World one. Some of this information, as we will discover later in the episode, is a bit out of date now, but I did gain a lot of more worldly knowledge via this game.

As a child, I tell this story in class all the time, I had been an avid reader of encyclopedias. We had two major sets of them growing up. The first came from the local supermarket. There was a subscription service and every few weeks another letter would arrive over a year. Neat, right? The other was a Charlie Brown collection where the Peanuts characters would explain various things to readers. Even neater!

I vigorously read both sets of these books along with the inspirational heroes collection where I first found out about cool people like Helen Keller, Terry Fox, and Margaret Mead.

So with all of this said, I was a natural for devouring the gigantic book that came with Carmen San Diego games. I knew how to use an index, in ways that I often have to teach my students now, and classmates in college too, and easily maneuvered my way through even the trickier and more difficult parts of the game. Seriously, do they not teach students how to use an index anymore? Table of contents?

I don’t think I ever actually finished any of them though because they would get fairly tedious after a while and I would lose interest only to start over again later and then get bored again. This happened with plenty of games during that era. More on that later.

Previously we have had a few stray mentions of this game, and series, on other episodes. I would like to cover a few more edutainment games at some point, as this era is so interesting.

So, the plot of Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego goes something like this: Carmen San Diego’s evil henchmen must be tracked around the world, which will lead you to the arch criminal herself. Clues must be gathered by visiting various places around the world and speaking to, oddly enough, mostly hotel workers and vice presidents of countries. Sure. Get a warrant and arrest the culprit before time runs out.

According to my research, Nintendo Power did not cover the SNES version of this game, but did cover Where In Time on both the NES and SNES. That is very strange.

The cover for various versions of this game is very similar, with a picture of Carmen and a magnifying lens over it. For various ports, it looks like they used a cropped version of the photo. In general, it looks pretty cool.

This game has been reissued on a number of platforms over the years besides its original appearance on PCs including the Super Nintendo, DS, Sega Genesis, Amiga, and a more recent phone port. Hey it would be cool to get a collection of the best versions of all these games.

So of course I originally played this game on the Apple II, but also on the Super Nintendo, which was how we streamed it over winter break last year. I am curious about the Genesis version of this game and need to check that out at some point. I think this game has held up, but there are certainly some issues, a few out of Broderbund’s control, though too.

I remembered this game being moderately hard, but it is incredible how quickly cases escalate from fairly easy to tougher to cases where you need to be pitch perfect in your investigation to not only get a warrant, but capture the culprit. This game gets surprisingly hard as it goes on. During our streams, I got to about five cases before the end, but basically ran into a wall in regards to case completion. You need to begin taking chances with hunches too or else you might get the warrant, but then run out of time before making an arrest.

Of course, I didn’t have the research book with me. I’m sure someone has scanned it all, but nowadays, we can use our phones or tablets to look up the same information with, mostly, precision. I did run into a few clues that I had to really look around online to find the answer for that, I am assuming, were answered most accurately in the book.

Even with that said, so many times with countries outside of North America or Europe, the answer is basically colonialism. If you run into a country that uses France’s currency, you can assume it is an African country France pillaged for their own needs. If you are ever unsure, check and see if a South American country was ever attacked or invaded by America or a European country. The answer will be right in front of you.

Some of the parodies are pretty cute. I got a chuckle out of the stolen treasure from Oslo being “Ibsen’s Doll House,” but some of the other more comedic attempts are a bit on the not so politically correct side and generally haven’t aged that well.

We seem to be able to will collections into existence, so let’s try again: I think a Carmen San Diego collection would be great. Some of the info is out of date, but it has a nostalgic quality that would certainly sell. It really is trying to teach, and I can respect that.


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