Ahhhh, Christmas. The time to get suckered into buying expensive toys for your children. We fell into the trap with the V.Smile. "But honey," my husband implored, "it's on sale for $49.99!" Was it worth it?
What is V.Smile?
If you haven't seen the commercials on TV, the V Smile is an "electronic learning system" that operates much like the Atari 2600. You plug in a "Smartridge" cartridge, turn on the system, and the game starts right up. Let the learning begin.
Inside the box, we found a square, orange and purple console with a clearly marked on (sunshine) and off (moon) switch. The child (or parent of a younger 3-4 year old) plugs in the cartridge, and turns it on with the push of a button. *SMART ORGANIZATION ALERT*: The V.Smile has a built in compartment to hold approximately 6 cartridges so they theoretically don't get lost.
Also included was a large joystick. This joystick can be easily turned so that a left hander can use it. There are 4 smaller buttons on the joystick (blue, green, red, yellow) and one large orange "enter" button. Next to the buttons is a purple, large sized joystick. Under the enter button are two small buttons marked exit and help.
Setting Up the V.Smile
Attaching the V.Smile was fairly simple with our 6 year old TV's stereo inputs. For the optimum stereo setup, you can plug the white, red and yellow cords into your TV. For a mono audio input, you can plug in the yellow video cord and one of the white or red cords. If your TV does not have this capability, you can also set up the V Smile through your VCR.
Then you plug in your V.Smile...but wait! There is no adapter. That's right, the V.Smile runs on 3 'C' batteries (which are not included) or you can purchase a 9 volt adapter. I just saw an adapter at Toys R Us for $14.99, though they are somewhat higher on eBay at this moment.
If you want to play a two player game (many games do have a 2 player mode), you will need to purchase a second joystick. These cost about $14.99 as well.
SAFETY ALERT: The joystick wires are long, which is nice if you are sitting far away from the TV. However, my 1 1/2 year old has already managed to wrap them around himself while my older son and I were playing the game. I wrap the joystick wires up and put the toy away when it is not in use to avoid any disasters.
Playing With the V.Smile
The V.Smile comes with "Adventures in Alphabet Park" for ages 3 - 5. My son, who is almost 4, jumped in right away with the Spiderman game (ages 4 - 6) he also received for Christmas. I'll save a review of the game for the game itself, and focus on the V.Smile as a whole. The game play is cutesy, but considering the graphics that I've seen from a Playstation 2, I'm surprised that this system would sell at all. Of course, the lower price is a factor. The games are not always intuitive, and my son needed some coaching to get going. However, once he got the basics down (running with the joystick, jumping with the enter button), he was able to navigate the game fairly well. He is actually more interested in the Adventures game at this point, probably because it is more suited to his age level.
Smartridges are divided into two modes of play: Learning Adventures and Learning Zone. The Learning Adventures are more of the video game play with some educational skills thrown in. The Learning Zone focuses more on the skills and less on the game play. They also come with two game levels to make the game a little harder as the kids grow.
You can purchase (for approximately $19.99 each) several games for the V.Smile. For ages 3-5, they currently have Care Bears, Lion King, Winnie the Pooh and Adventures in Alphabet Park. For ages 4-6, they have Scooby Doo, Spiderman, Little Red Riding Hood and The Little Mermaid. For ages 5-7, they have Mickey Mouse and Learnin' Wheels.
According to vtech, the V.Smile encourages: Language Development, Word Building, Math Skills, Letter Names and Sounds, Discovery and Exploration, Independent Play, Visualization and Memory, Problem Solving, Spelling, Cognitive Development, Science, Social Studies, Cooperative Play, Motor Skills, Imaginative Play, and Musical Creativity.
Among the various awards the V.Smile has won are the Family Fun Toy of the Year 2004 and Nick Jr. Best Toys of the Year.
I like electronic toys that review skills. I don't expect them to be my child's teacher. So, I like that the V.Smile has the educational aspect. My son takes his knowledge of colors, shapes, and letters out for a spin when he plays Alphabet Park. He enjoys the toy and plays with it quite a bit. Thus, I have to admit that I like the V.Smile.
However, I'm not sure that it is a "necessary" toy. The kids will be playing video games when they get older, and I'm not sure that starting them this early is a good thing. Plus, the academic work in school will not always be this exciting. Am I setting my son up for disappointment when he gets to school only to find (oh no) a paper and pencil? Or, am I teaching my son early how to play games in moderation? Only time will tell for me, and by the time he is in school and I can update this review, this toy will probably be obsolete!
Ultimately, despite my worries over how video games will be influencing my child, I still like that I can sit down a play a game with my son that I enjoy too (I am, admittedly, determined to get through the next level of Alphabet Park). He calls out letters to me, which makes my heart swell with pride. He takes turns with his friend when his friend plays with him, and helps me out when I don't know where to go next.
I place this one on my recommended for fun but not required for learning list. Was it worth the money? If you have the money to spend, and like to play video games, then sure. If you are on a tighter budget, I'd go with something more like the Leap Pad (slightly cheaper initial purchase, subsequent books slightly cheaper with more choices, can find deals on eBay). Finally, for the tightest of budgets (or really anyone for that matter), there is absolutely no substitute for reading a regular old book with your child!
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Amount Paid (US$): 49.99
Type of Toy: Educational
Age Range of Child: 3 to 5 Years