Reimagining a Beloved Educational game with
Carmen Sandiego Returns

Sudden Industries reboots the classic geography game for
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The Story

The global learning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) wanted to herald the return of the iconic Carmen Sandiego brand with their first-ever app for iPad and iPhone. The launch of Carmen Sandiego Returns also marks the 30th anniversary of the mysterious character, adored by millions of children and nostalgic adults alike. The goal of the product was to attract new fans (children aged 7-12) to Carmen and her adventures, while also providing a creative update of the brand for the longtime fan-base of the original PC game and TV show.


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Content Strategy, Competitive Analysis, Product Ideation, User Experience and Interaction Design, Art Direction, Original Content, Game Design, App Development (Unity), Usability and Focus Group Testing


Communicator Award: Best Entertainment Mobile App

The Challenge

  • Creating a game that targets kids 7-12 years old while still being fun and nostalgic for longtime Carmen Sandiego hardcore fans
  • Refreshing the brand and storytelling approach while still staying true to its original mix of adventure, education and humor
  • Creating a gameplay experience that satisfies traditional long-play adventure gamers as well as short-play casual game enthusiasts
  • Building in additional revenue opportunities with in-app purchases that would enhance user experience

Our Solution

Sudden developed an adventure-based learning game that features a glamorous web of high-tech spies, panoramic vistas and globe-spanning intrigue. Players are trained as ACME agents to capture the elusive Carmen Sandiego and her V.I.L.E. henchman by leveraging their knowledge and understanding of history, geography and world cultures. Filled with educational facts and challenging mini-games that foster curiosity and problem solving skills, the game forces players to find clues to stay hot on Carmen’s trail. Game features include:

  • 15 unique missions to 25 international locations and 20 fantastic V.I.L.E agents
  • Hundreds of fun and educational geography and world culture facts
  • 10 multi-leveled mini-games
  • An in-game economy and reward system
  • Revenue generating in-app purchasing for power-ups and additional missions

The Results

Carmen Sandiego Returns earned great reviews upon its initial release, including the following excerpts*:

  • "Carmen Sandiego Returns is an excellent, modern addition to this beloved franchise from my childhood."
  • "Does a nice job of keeping the original core mechanics of the game the same, but updating it for modern generations."
  • "Features richly illustrated locations which you can pan over while looking for clues, great voice-work and a slick, easy to use modern interface which helps kids feel like they are an A.C.M.E. spy."
  • "My daughter was hooked from the moment she got her A.C.M.E. ID badge and was rapt with attention as she listened to the A.C.M.E. HQ Chief tell us the details of our first case. She vivaciously read each and every clue and fact we discovered."
  • "I applaud Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for not attempting to do some radically different reboot and instead they’ve chosen to rekindle that core gameplay which won kids (and parents) over 30 years ago."
  • Winner of the 2016 Communicator Award for Mobile Apps: Games

* from AppAddict, Nov 2015

  • some alt
  • some alt
  • some alt
  • some alt
  • some alt
  • some alt
  • some alt
  • some alt

Ready to write your story? We can help. Contact us below.


256 W 36th St
3rd Floor
NY, NY 10018


646 621 7906


sudden is always looking for
talented people. drop us a line