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Hands-On: PlayStation Vita Points Sony In New Directions

Hands-On: PlayStation Vita Points Sony In New Directions  (photo)

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Sony’s been getting its glossy plastic behind handed to it in the handheld gaming market for a while now. The PlayStation people launched the PSP a few years back with the hopes of breaking Nintendo’s decades-long hegemony in the portable gaming space but, almost from the very beginning, the device faced an uphill battle. While powerful enough to render graphics quite well, the lack of a second analog stick made developers have to invent bizarre workarounds for camera control in 3D games.

Over the lifespan of the device, publishers stop seeing the PSP as a destination for their AAA content and even Sony started putting only experimental titles out for it. Nintendo, meanwhile, continued to dominate with the DS handhelds. Soon, the only reason to have a PSP was to play pirated arcade classics on the go, thanks to some enterprising hacking. Then, both Sony and Nintendo got blindsided by the sudden rise of games on the iPhone and later Android devices. Suddenly, players had other on-the-go options chock full of cheap and attractive games. Nintendo’s bet big on the appeal of 3D with their new 3DS portable but Sony’s taking a different approach to winning over gamers’ thumbs.

Announced as the NGP (Next-Gen Portable), Sony revealed that their new handheld will be called PlayStation Vita and will retail for $250. Despite the absolutely terrible name, the gadget offers up an interesting mix of technologies for developers to take advantage of. With a touchscreen on the front and a touch panel on the back, two analog sticks, a gyroscope/accelerometer combo and front and rear cameras, the PS Vita harbors a smorgasbord of input methods for games. At E3 last week, I played a bunch of games in progress for the device and came away impressed.

The biggest Sony franchise comes to the PSV in the form of Uncharted: Golden Abyss. The lush landscapes that fans are used to seeing Nathan Drake appear undiminished on the device and you can play pretty well with the touchscreen. Using swipes and taps to guide Drake, you can navigate the jumps and platform challenges that bedevil his every adventure in a new way.

Reality Fighters presented a funny twist to typical martial-arts action by using the camera in two novel ways. First, you can create an avatar with your face as captured by the front camera, further customizing it with a fighting style and outlandish garb. Second, you can fight in front of a background that’s a real-time image of whatever you’re standing on top of. So, “you” can fight a plethora of opponents

But, the best looking (and sounding) PSV game at E3 was Sound Shapes. Developed by wunderkind indie dev Jonathan Mak, the title presents platforming action in a new synaesthetic light. There’s no backing musical track while playing but each quirky shape in the game makes a sound. Successfully, moving through the levels fleshes out the song even more until you get a complete melody. The joy of discovering just where the songs are going to go next propels you through the game. Better still is the capability to build and sahre your own levels, made especially easy by the touchscreen.

Despite these and other promising titles in the works, Sony will have a challenging time carving a slice of the portable gaming market in a post-iOS world. The PSV will have wifi and a 3G option with AT&T (an announcement that elicited groans from people at Sony’s press conference last week) but the PlayStation Network isn’t yet a home for impulse-priced content like the App Store or Android Market. That can change, though, with healthy injections of indie games at launch and over the first few months. Right now, the PlayStation Vita looks like it’s going to fulfill the unmet promise of the PSP: being a hi-def handheld where you can play Sony exclusives without having to compromise on graphics or controls.

How about that name, huh? Are you going to pre-order a PlayStation Vita? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…