Patapon 3 on PlayStation Portable Demo Impressions.

Patapon 3's come out of nowhere. A short countdown clock on SCEJ's website culminated in a montage appearance from the drum 'em up. Now, just a few weeks after E3, we've all got our hands on the next entry in Japan Studios' Patapon franchise. And unusually for a handheld game, this one's all about online multiplayer.

Patapon 3 is very much more of the same. The trademark rhythm-based gameplay is perfectly in tact from what we've seen, with various activities mapped out to particular drum-beats. Yes, "Pata-Pata-Pata-Pon" will still move your army forwards, while "Pon-Pon-Pata-Pon" will have your eye-balled miniatures throwing spears and swords at the various enemies littering the map.

The attraction of the day is the multiplayer however. Here you'll be able to use a local adHoc wireless connection, or Infrastructure to play over the Internet. Despite a few flaky attempts at joining a game, we were able to connect up with three other players to take our rhythm based fight online. In these online quests, you'll assume the position of a "Hero" character. There are various classes to choose from, including an Archer and Swordman. We were able to select a characters equipment, alongside a number of "Perks" before jumping into the game.

You can communicate with players as you go, but sadly this is limited to a fairly short number of pre-defined phrases. Still, we were able to get our message across as we dropped into the game and started banging the beat to get us moving forward. The first thing we noticed was how refreshingly neat it was to play a co-operative multiplayer game without the typical shooter hooks. Banging out the drums for movement is as satisfying as it's ever been.

In multiplayer, the game feels as familiar as it does in single-player. The difference here is that you have three other characters beside you. We'd already tried tackling the Field Quest included in the demo alone, and failed miserably. This is tuned for three characters. Opting as the archer, we decided to stay at the back of the pack and shoot arrows from a safe distance. Our strategy worked as we completed the quest with ease.

We managed to obtain enough XP from the quest to level up our archer, and we even got some equipment upgrades. This progressive unlock system is going to be key to Patapon 3's multiplayer replayability. We're just curious to know if the single-player and multiplayer will factor into each other at all. It would be nice if they did.

Still, we remain optimistic about Patapon 3. The game doesn't appear to be doing anything new or different, but is clearly building on the formula that's made the franchise a bit of an underground hit. The multiplayer works better than we imagined, and if Sony can sure up the servers before release, we'll be there from day one. Exciting stuff.