Carmen Sandiego Adventures in Math: The Lady Liberty Larceny
WiiWare | The Learning Company / Gamelion | 1-6 Players (local multiplayer) | Out Now (North America) | 600 Nintendo Points
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote (pointer)
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15th December 2011; By KnucklesSonic8
The plot of the game borrows the landmark-recovering premise seen in prior Carmen Sandiego titles where the elusive villain begins executing her master plan by stealing the Statue of Liberty. The Chief, who has since turned into a male figure, will inform you of the troubling situation and then send you off to your first destination to begin your investigation. Before you travel the world, though, the Agent Manager will be your first stop. Here, you can select from a small batch of okay-looking characters who will represent you in the game -- something that immediately differs from other Carmen Sandiego games. No need to worry about running out of room in your household, because there are lots of slots available for different profiles. What doesn't change, though, is that you will still have a guide to help you on your case. Sort of. This helper only appears in the form of an icon via phone messages, so without that physical guide it feels kind of different from what I remember.
In any event, this first case is initially set in New York, with Shanghai and Berlin serving as subsequent hotspots in your search of the V.I.L.E culprit. Using your ACME-issued phone, you'll select sub-locations from within those central areas to gather information. To bring it up, you can either point at the icon on the screen and press A, or simply press the Plus Button. Under this menu, you can also check your current status, and consult your journal for direction on what to do when you're stuck. Sticking to a point-and-click format, players use the cursor and the A Button to specify places within each environment for their avatar to walk to. As your cursor hovers over NPC's on the street, you can press A to engage them in conversation. By holding the B Button, you can activate your Scanner tool which will sense any presence of Hint Coins or other items that you can retrieve.
Each location is represented as a very average-looking 2D plane where only half of the environment can be viewed on the screen at a given time. As your character moves from one side of the screen to the other, you'll observe that the random people on the street just stand in a set position without any kind of movement. Because of the minimal activity taking place on-screen and the overall look of each locale, the navigation feels flat and underwhelming. There isn't much to seek out in the environments either, with only a few of them having interactive elements where could go inside of. And "going inside" simply involved a switch of screens where you'd see a small room, usually with at least one character looking straight at you. Nothing substantial by any means.
The only times when the dialogue actually seemed to matter was when some humor was employed. After I learned that Gamelion was responsible for developing this game, I realized why comments like, "That makes me soy angry!" felt somewhat familiar. The sense of humor here is actually quite similar to what was seen in Gamelion's own original IP, Furry Legends. Unfortunately, this is more or less wasted since there's no voice acting to accompany these moments, making it feel dry and not nearly as funny as the developers might have thought.
The game features ten puzzles in all, each focusing on basic mathematics and usually triggered through conversation with NPC's. Each puzzle is also worth a set amount of Reputation Points that go towards overall performance as an ACME agent. Hint Coins can be used on the bottom-left corner of the screen for tips on the solution, but by using them, you'll forfeit the opportunity to earn bonus points upon completion of the puzzle. Likewise, making any mistakes in your submitted answers will prevent you from earning a Perfect Bonus at the end. While the thought of proving your worth as an ACME Agent may have sounded appealing in previous games, it means nothing here -- especially since the game itself doesn't seem to care that much about it.
How about the nature of the puzzles themselves? Well, the very first one has you recognizing the patterns in a short sequence of numbers and using that knowledge to determine the next sets of numbers. Other examples include matching three examples of angles with their correct classifiers (obtuse, right, acute); using collective weight data to extrapolate values of individual units; as well as using cut shapes to fill a tangram template. The educational component is definitely there, but unlike the puzzles I remember from other Carmen Sandiego titles which were fun to complete, these aren't.
Once you gather all three clues, you can head to the Warrant menu on your phone and apply for an arrest warrant. Examining all the possible suspects, you'll examine the different biographies on each of the known villains and make an educated guess on who you think fits the description of the clues that have been gathered. Following this, a cutscene will initiate, resembling that of a comic strip. You will then have an incredibly lame final confrontation with the V.I.L.E villain to secure their capture. The sense of fulfillment that was present in other Carmen Sandiego titles isn't evident since the route to the villain is laid with simple little brain teasers and weak clue-gathering elements. It just doesn't really add up to something that would make players feel like they benefited from playing -- either from an academic standpoint or in terms of enjoyment.
Also concerning is that in addition to the generic-sounding music, the audio feels really choppy. Background songs are abruptly cut off many times throughout the experience as you open up your ACME Phone or are reading an incoming message. Although voiceovers are present in the game, they're not used effectively at all. Alongside puzzle explanations from The Chief, certain NPC's also have a few lines of text that they will read off at the start of puzzles. Strangely, out in the environment, it's as if they completely lose the ability to speak. Additionally, phone messages left by Carmen Sandiego and your ACME helper have no voice attached to them when they're first shown on-screen, but then when you open up your ACME Phone, these messages can be heard with voiceovers attached to them. It's a very, very weird decision that contributes to the dull, even quiet feel of the entire game.
Even with the background music, things don't get a whole lot better. As a matter of fact, the lack of quality with the music prompted me to look up the music from earlier games. Looking back, I now appreciate that the music I was exposed to before did more than just keep your attention. The music in previous titles always added to the tensity of the situation, and produced a feeling like someone was lurking around the corner and that you had to solve the puzzle quickly and leave -- something I still remember quite clearly. That sense of urgency is completely absent here. Even some of the lovely atmospheric music is not here at all. Plus, in visiting different areas, you'll keep hearing the same music again and again, and it just all seems so off from what other Carmen Sandiego games have done in the past.
On the subject of presentation, the characters in this game are simple in form, matching the environments they appear in. Besides just looking uneventful, I noticed white lines appearing on textures found on the ground and in a tree, adding to the impression that there was a lack of care put into this aspect of the game.
Given all that I've said, it shouldn't surprise you to learn that I wasn't pleased with this game at all. It's sad, but I never thought I'd see the day when I would be bored by a Carmen Sandiego game. This definitely isn't because her lustre has worn off. No, this game's execution is to blame for that: weak presentation; unsatisfactory attempts to replicate mechanics present in earlier games; and puzzles that feel like one-offs with no reason to return or even varying levels of difficulty to mix things up. Just about every area of this game falls below expectations, putting the entire project into question.
It will take players less than two hours to complete the game's Story Mode which, as you can imagine, isn't long enough. There's very little satisfaction (if any) to be had from solving the individual puzzles, much less the entire case. Aside from the Story Mode, players can head to Practice Mode to replay the same ten puzzles they completed in the adventure but with different solutions. Considering that none of the puzzles are actually fun, I can't see anyone returning to them. There is also a turn-based Multiplayer mode where you, once again, replay activities seen in Story Mode but in a group setting. It's not even remotely fun by my standards, especially after being exposed to superior multiplayer options that focus on logic puzzles (including Carmen Sandiego's ThinkQuick Challenge).
Nowhere near the same level of excellence seen in Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?, this is a thoroughly disappointing revival of one of my favourite childhood franchises. It doesn't even hold a candle to the more closely-related Carmen Sandiego: Math Detective. While I was initially excited to hear this new treatment would result in multiple games, this no longer excites me. Unless things change drastically, I'll be expecting future titles to have the same disappointing execution seen here. Older fans, the kids, and even Carmen Sandiego herself all deserve better.
13/30 - Very Poor
Gameplay 6/10 - Point-and-click format, weak clue-gathering techniques, simple math-based puzzles, mechanics of the adventure component are lacking
Presentation 4/10 - Environments are unimpressively flat, voice clips not used effectively, audio issues really detract from the game's feel, generic music
Enjoyment 1/5 - Boring, puzzles have the educational component but lack that element of fun that existed in games prior, dull character interactions
Extra Content 2/5 - Multiplayer component for up to six players, ten different puzzles, on the short side, lots of profile slots for multiple players
Equivalent to a score of 43% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System