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I’m embarrassed to admit that I have three guitars and only one has seen any action in the past year — the miniature Gibson Les Paul that came with “Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.”

The T-rated game — developed by Neversoft for RedOctane — is the latest edition of that step that comes between air guitar and shredding the real thing.

The game’s mechanics are basically unchanged from earlier versions. There are five fret buttons and a bar for strumming. As color-coded notes flow down the TV screen, players press the corresponding buttons and hit the strum bar. Longer notes can be accentuated by pressing the whammy bar.

Of course this all works pretty smoothly on “easy,” when only three of the fret buttons come into play. In higher levels of difficulty, players must worry about more fret buttons and chord combinations. It gets quite challenging even before the “expert” level. This is truly a game that’s easy to learn but hard to master.

This is the first “Guitar Hero” available for the Nintendo Wii console, which adds a few small twists to the game play. A Wii remote fits into the guitar-shaped controller, giving it the ability to sense motion and vibrate. After hitting a special string of notes, you can raise the guitar’s neck to active “Star Power.” At that point, the guitar will rumble. In addition, the remote’s speaker emits a scratchy ping whenever you hit the wrong note — a function handled by the TV speakers in other versions of the game.

The only drawback to the Wii version is that it doesn’t offer the ability to download addition songs — a big plus for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions.

“Guitar Hero III” offers several offline game modes, including career, co-op, quick play and battle. Online, players can play in competitive and co-op sessions.

The basic career mode features a skimpy storyline about a garage band looking for a big break. As your band progresses, the songs become more difficult. At key points, you’ll go into battle mode against a true guitar legend — Slash from Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, both of whom created tracks specifically for the game. Eventually, you discover that your success is based on a deal with the devil, which sets up the final battle. Of course the finale isn’t too surprising, given the preponderance of heavy-metal-inspired demons-and- flames visuals.

The game is loaded with tunes that are fun to play. Most of the older stuff — Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” Foghat’s “Slowride” and Kiss’ “Rock ‘n’ Roll All Nite,” for example — is handled in covers. But most of the newer songs — about three-quarters of the more than 70 titles — are by the original artists. The original tracks also include “Anarchy in the U.K.,” which the Sex Pistols re-recorded just for the game.

The results are very satisfying — especially since it lets me pretend that I’m actually good at playing a guitar.

Platforms: Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3On the Web: www.guitarherogame.com/gh3/

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