It has been 30 years since a certain iconic childhood villain first simultaneously taught geography, math, civics, and language arts while going on adventures and creating chaos. On Thursday Boston’s Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. brings Carmen Sandiego to the small screen, launching an iOS app version of the character who has starred in a long-running computer game and public television series.
“Carmen Sandiego Returns” is aimed at 9- to 11-year-olds, but no one will tattle if nostalgic adults want to relive their Saturday morning cartoons. The app encourages players to use their knowledge of history, geography, and world cultures to decipher clues to earn Carmen Coins.
Users explore cities from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Geneva, Switzerland, to Beijing, China, to hunt for clues by tapping the device. Players will attempt to stop Carmen as she removes jewels from the Taj Mahal, steals a cryogenic chamber in Berlin, and embarks on more villainous adventures. Carmen Coins can be spent on fast travel, mini-game boosts, challenge replays, and experience points to elevate their ranking as an agent. Apple Game Center integration allows players to track achievements on a leaderboard and compete against friends.
Houghton Mifflin, the publisher of K-12 educational material that was founded in 1832, is trying to bounce back from its 2012 bankruptcy filing. The company launched a new version of its Curious World website and app in October, and inked a deal with public television station WGBH in August to develop a TV program based on the popular children’s book series “Gossie & Friends.”
These new deals helped increase third-quarter net sales by about 4 percent from 2014 to $576 million. But Houghton Mifflin’s stock price has tumbled about 30 percent since its 2015 high in June, and closed on Wednesday at $19.18 per share.
The Carmen Sandiego game was initially played at home and in more than 300,000 schools nationwide. “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” premiered on PBS in 1991 and attracted 5.5 million weekly viewers. Two more Carmen Sandiego TV shows were made in the ’90s – “Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?” and “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?”
Now the publishing company is hoping to pull on the strings of sentimental adults who will encourage their kids to download the app. Houghton Mifflin first started tweeting and posting on Facebook about the app in August, slowly unveiling cities, in-app costumes, and highlighting characters on #MCM (man crush Monday) and #WCW (woman crush Wednesday).
— Carmen Sandiego (@CarmenSandiego) November 9, 2015
Houghton Mifflin has several apps with the same characters as their books or games, including Curious George and Oregon Trail. An Android version of “Carmen Sandeigo Returns” is expected to be available by mid-2016.
“‘Carmen Sandiego Returns’ preserves the core gameplay, style and characters of the original game, while giving the brand a modern twist for today’s digitally-savvy learners,” CJ Kettler, chief of consumer brands and strategy at Houghton Mifflin, said in a statement.