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Video Game / Carmen Sandiego: Word Detective

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An Edutainment Game made in 1997 as part of the Carmen Sandiego franchise by Brøderbund Software and featuring the titular villain in a scheme to cause a worldwide communications breakdown using her "Babble-On Machine".

The story opens with the latest agent in a line of failed missions being captured by one of Carmen's surprise traps. This leads the chief and ACME agent Chase Devineaux to turn to the player character, dubbed Agent 13, to rescue the captured agents and destroy the machine. The gameplay centers around locating the keys to the agent's cells using "password decoders", in the form of various language puzzles hidden in various VILE hideouts around the world (and even beyond).


Carmen Sandiego: Word Detective displays the following tropes:

  • 13 Is Unlucky: Inverted. The player as Agent 13 is the only one to successfully take Carmen down.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Carmen is normally a thief that doesn't care about the moral hazard of her heists, but she would never hurt people directly. In this game, she uses the ACME agents as her guinea pigs for the Babble-On Machine and mocks them for getting captured.
  • Alphabet Soup Cans: The puzzles in this game have no relevance to the environment whatsoever, and are all about language and its construction.
  • Alternate Continuity: Implied; the ACME Good Guides are called agents, and you are an agent instead of a gumshoe detective. Carmen is also subject to Adaptational Villainy, and we meet her former partner Chase, who didn't appear in previous games. Her VILE agents are also relatively more competent.
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  • America Saves the Day: Averted. In an agent list from various cultures with a villain plan made to scramble language worldwide, the American agents are captured just as easily as the rest. Though Chase is also American, the game never gives any identifying features to the player, leaving their nationality completely up to the imagination.
  • And I Must Scream: The fate of the captured ACME agents; they get shackled, hit by the Babble-On Machine, and then somehow get frozen in a standing position and put under a spotlight, making it look like they're trapped in tubes. Fortunately, once you free them, they can talk normally.
  • Biblical Motifs: In addition to being a Punny Name, the Tower of Babble references the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis, which a large group of prideful people intended to build high enough to reach Heaven. God decided He didn't want that to happen and threw a Spanner in the Works by way of giving each person a different language, meaning that they could no longer collaborate on the massive project and were forced to stop, naming the unfinished tower so because of it.
  • Bittersweet Ending: On the one hand, all of ACME's agents escape and are relatively unharmed, and the Babble-On Machine is toast. On the other hand, Carmen has escaped, and the VILE agents are still out there.
  • Continue Your Mission, Dammit!: The game's radar starts going off once all the passwords in a hideout are found to warn you of an approaching villain, but you can remain in the hideout for as long as you want without any ill effects. Even opening and closing the Transport menu won't do anything (opening it when the radar is beeping moves and locks your view of the hideout into a certain position in preparation for the outgoing cutscene, and closing the menu is all that's needed to unlock it again); the villain won't even appear until after you click the Launch button and actually start teleporting away.
  • Curse of Babel: Carmen plans to steal the power of speech by invoking this trope on the whole world. Fittingly, the tower she uses as her headquarters is named the Tower of Babble.
  • Damsel in Distress: The 12 ACME agents inside the Tower are trapped and it's your task to rescue them.
  • Darker and Edgier: As far as you can go within this genre (and series). The art style isn't anywhere near as colorful as in previous games, the music is much less upbeat, and this is the first game where VILE agents will actively attempt to harm the player as they try to make their escape from the lair. Depending on which VILE agent is housing the key at the time, they can actually get surprisingly close to harming the player.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The blatantly mocking concern for Agent 12 when she's been reduced to babbling nonsense is Carmen's Establishing Character Moment in the game.
  • Fetch Quest: The game centers around solving puzzles to decipher passwords, which are required to unlock and secure keys that free the captured agents so that you can obtain their part of the code to destroy the Babble-On machine. It's a fetch quest inside more fetch quests.
  • Hard Boiled Detective: Nick Furtive appears to be an evil variant; his lair is based in a shabby P.I. office with a jazzy, noir-esque musical theme, and his sequence of almost catching the player makes clear he likes to do business using his fists.
  • Intangible Theft: By scrambling the sounds that people articulate, the Babble-On Machine effectively allows Carmen to steal speech.
  • Interchangeable Antimatter Keys: Every key you acquire can only be used to free a single agent. Justified as they're all made to fit the same lock and you can choose which agent you want to free before using the key (although it has no effect on the plot or gameplay).
  • Karma Houdini: Carmen's plan might have been ruined, but she escapes scot-free. For that matter, so do all of the other villains you encounter in the game.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. D. Ranged, whose lair is his laboratory, complete with some kind of creature on an operating table that he activates with lightning at one point.
  • Mythology Gag: Some of the captured ACME agents are the Good Guides from the 1995 versions of World and USA.
  • Noodle Incident:
    Carmen: [to a henchman] Take these keys and hide them. And not under your pillow like the last time.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: The Babble-On Machine. The player destroys the device and is presumed to have defeated Carmen's plans to disrupt the world's speech for good.
  • Oh, Crap!:
  • Punny Name: Carmen's underlings, of course (consisting of librarian Otto Readmore, ship captain I.I. Captain, and Egyptian tomb dweller Queen Notalotenkammen, among others), but also the Babble-on Machine, which is a play on the ancient city of Babylon. This ties into the name of the tower it's housed in, which is named for more than just a pun.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Justified with Chase Devineaux, who appears as your liaison and revealed to be Carmen's former ACME partner; we don't know much about Carmen's past with ACME. Chase is working to handle another mission, which is why he isn't coming to infiltrate the tower, but he gives you locations and warnings.
  • Right-Hand Attack Dog: Esther Odious has one, which she attempts to sic on the player after obtaining her hideout's key.
  • Sadistic Choice: Downplayed. You can only free one ACME agent at a time and leave the others trapped in beams, with them brokenly begging for help. Eventually, however, you free them all and can focus on taking down the machine.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Occasionally Carmen and Chase have a verbal sparring session when sending messages to Agent 13.
  • Supervillain Lair: The Tower of Babble serves as Carmen's, and all of the environments of the game involve traveling to those of other V.I.L.E. villains.
  • Towers of Hanoi: Variation, where you have to stack words in alphabetical order and can never stack them unalphabetized. Math Detective features an identical game, only with numbers instead of words.
  • Trap Door: Agent 12 falls through one at the top of the Tower of Babble in the opening, leading to her capture.
  • We Will Meet Again: The game ends with Carmen Sandiego escaping the Tower of Babble, with Chase telling Phoenix that they haven't seen the last of her yet, and he'll be waiting for her whenever she strikes again.
  • The Worf Effect: Fans of the 1995 iteration of World and USA see their beloved good guides as agents. Agent 12 is Ann Tickwitee, who has been shown to go toe-to-toe with V.I.L.E. operatives. The opening features her getting captured, cuffed and mocked by Carmen, showing that Carmen has definitely gotten tougher and the stakes are much higher. It's especially noticeable when you realize Rock Solid was also caught.
  • Worthy Opponent: Carmen comes to consider Agent 13 this.


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