Review: Carmen Sandiego: Secret of the StolenDrum

Although the name Carmen Sandiego may not mean anything to most of you, she's not new to the world of video games. There are about fifteen games on the PC with her name on it and the NES and the Super NES also had a few of her titles. The reason her name doesn't ring a lot of bells is because her games were all educational games. You know, games that teach you what colours are in the flag of France, what the capitol of Peru is and in what period Machiavelli wrote books. By combining geography and history with a storyline about capturing masterthief Carmen Sandiego, Broderbund managed to sell a lot of titles, enough even to turn Carmen into a TV series. The object in the games was to track down Carmen Sandiego by traveling across the globe, collecting hints and evidence to arrest her before the time limit was up. You did this with a very simple point and click adventure interface that gave you all kinds of educational facts every time you visited a place.


For her debut on this generation's consoles Carmen threw just about every element of her previous games overboard, point and click adventuring turned into a platform action adventure. With stealth of course. The storyline is still a lot like the storylines in all the other Carmen games though: You're a rookie agent that works for ACME and tries to catch Carmen. This time she's trying to steal ancient drums to form a map that leads to a jewel that gives knowledge of all nations, can't let that happen right? In this review you can find out if this new Carmen Sandiego game is still educational and, more importantly, playable enough to give to your children.


This Carmen Sandiego game is not just a collection of still images with text like the old ones, but that doesn't mean The Secret of the Stolen Drums is a good looking game. The game almost looks like it could have worked on the N64, the textures are pretty lo-res and the models aren't very detailed. The model animations look nice, especially those on the main character, but a few nice jumps and backflips won't make you forget the smudgy textures around you. What Secret of the Stolen Drums does pull of nicely is the surroundings. Like in previous Carmen games you visit famous places all over the world, and even with the bland visuals they're all very recognizable. You'll see Maori statues in New Zealand, small temples in Thailand and lots of little canals and boats in New Orleans.



Carmen's developers obviously tried to make the game more exciting by making the music react to what's happening around you, sadly they achieved the exact opposite. The game's soundtrack consists of way too short bits of music that are looped in a really sloppy way. If any robots or monsters get near you the game starts looping a slightly more dramatic piece of music, which turns back into the standard song after the bad guys are gone. This is the way dynamic music is usually done in games, but in Carmen Sandiego there are no transitions between the different pieces of music whatsoever, the calm music just stops abruptly to make way for the exciting stuff. If you've still got the game sound on you can also hear uninspired voice acting and a few uninteresting sound effects.



If you've read this review's intro you know that this Carmen game is a far cry from her old point and click adventures. Secret of the Stolen Drums is a 3D platform action adventure complete with stealth, so you can expect a bit of Mario, a bit of Zelda and a bit of Metal Gear Solid. Unfortunately none of these three types of gameplay are without faults. All three of them share one very big flaw, they're far too easy. The platforming is never really challenging, the solutions to the puzzles are always closeby and sneaking around isn't much fun if your enemies instantly forget ever seeing you when you walk around a corner. If you look past this, the platforming is by far the most enjoyable of the three since the controls work very well. The adventuring is mostly limited to shooting or hitting switches to open doors, surprisingly enough most of the puzzles are not related to the educational part of the game at all. Quite a letdown if you've played any of the older Carmen Sandiego games, which were filled with clever history and geography related puzzles. The education in this title has been limited to a short intro before every level and an occasional comment from your colleagues over the radio. The stealth bit is kind of a laugh, you can sneak around your enemies as much as you like, you still have to kill most of them to gain acces to later parts of the levels.



For an educational title, Carmen Sandiego plays surprisingly well. The controls are very responsive, and the platforming, fighting and sneaking all work pretty nicely. You move around with the control stick, pressing it just slightly in any direction to walk slower and less noisy. B lets you attack with your weapon staff, A makes you jump, R makes you crouch and Y shows you the interface which is otherwise kept hidden. The X button has more than one function; you use it to read things, to press yourself against walls or it uses your staff as a pole vault to jump over bigger distances. L is used to go into first person view, from which you can fire darts at switches or flying enemies. There aren't really any problems with the controls, exept that you don't have to use them intensively enough since the game is far too easy.


Secret of the Stolen Drums is not very long. You can finish it in a few days without much trouble, since there's not a lot of challenge. You can collect a few items but that won't really lengthen your playtime, the game is very lineair so you never really have to look far for hidden things. Once you've finished the game there's not much incentive to do so again, the second time is naturally even easier than the first and the story isn't nearly interesting enough to go through again.


Final Say:

It's easy to write of Secret of the Stolen Drums as a bad game just because it's an educational title, it's not good for a number other reasons. It doesn't look good, it sounds terrible and is way too easy. Sure it's supposed to be a kids game, but kids don't mind their games looking good and they're also better at playing games than a lot of developers seem to think. It's also not very educational, the short pieces in which you actually can learn something are presented in a very dull way and skippable with the press of a button.

N-Europe Final Verdict

3D teach-em-up that plays nice but is far too easy.

  • Gameplay3
  • Playability4
  • Visuals3
  • Audio2
  • Lifespan2
Final Score



Controls feel good


Sounds awful
Way too easy!

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