“ Manufacturer: VTech / Age: 1 Year+ „
Vtech are known for their high tech yet educational toys and are a respected name in the UK market. Despite their modernity they are still toys where discovery is key and, as such, have been a bit of a favourite in our house. They provide the modern, button pushing, light flashing, noise making satisfaction that modern toddlers seem to love but without just giving it to the toddler on a plate, devoid of learning experience.
My purchase of the Fire Station was coupled with a rather spur of the moment decision to purchase the main Smartville toy, the Alphabet Train Station. It was bought online, with no research, as it seemed like a real bargain. Being V-Tech I thought it would be great. On reflection I wish I'd known a little more about the Smartville range, before parting with my money. Having said that, it remains a popular toy in our house. As an accompaniment to the Smartville Train it does have some qualities that make me stop short of saying "don't buy this", as a stand-alone piece I would caution against purchase.
The toy is overly simplified and, for this reason, its stand-alone qualities are in doubt. The Fire Station is, in reality, no more than a backdrop. There're a couple of gates, through which the firs truck can travel and a quasi chute down which the characters can drop to get to the fire. It's not instantly recognisable as a fire station (and particularly not to the UK market where fire hydrants and trucks are so very different).
The characters that this comes with are a dog, cat and bird. Unlike some of the characters that accompany the train station these are all recognisable!
One of the unusual features of the Smartville range are the "hot spots" which can be used by the child to set off certain functions. No more than circles with raised pins in them, the "hot spots" are receptive to the child placing a character in them. The character will then activate a sound function. Where with the train station this included identifying characters the fire station phrases include "Diall 999, we're here to help" and "Quick, to the fire engine". There are also a couple of push buttons on the unit which set of similar phrases or music. Music plays when the unit is turned on. Where the hot spots on the main train unit seemed to serve a purpose those on the fire station seem rather pointless. A button which should be activated by the characters as they fall down the chute is temperamental at best.
Although this toy is expandable with other buildings and character sets it's worth noting that only the train station "hot spots" will correctly identify all of the animals and accessories or give the right phrases. If you put a train station character onto a fire station "hot spot" for example, the fire station will not be able to tell what it is and it may not respond with a correct phrase. This is very confusing for a young child.
For its many design faults this is still a toy that I'd (begrudgingly) recommend along side the main unit. It's one of the few toys that has grown with my son. We gave him the set for his first birthday and, two and a half years later it still gets good use. He plays with it in a very different way now to he did integrating the pieces and coming up with good scenarios.
The toy seems to be quite sturdy although we have lost the functionality of the chute button. There is a two level volume button but to be honest every child seems to turn the button to maximum. This level is OK, loud, but not overly so! The toy takes 2 AA batteries (rechargeables are fine) and battery life is excellent (about 1 change every 8 or so months!).
The toy does live up to V-Tech's reputation for providing educational toys but alas it falls short on design (and is too confusing). It does have the advantage of being a toy that can be played with as intended or as the basis for good pretend play.
Begrudgingly recommended as part of a range. Not recommended in isolation.