NEW YORK – A little more than three years ago, "Guitar Hero" first gave air-guitar addicts a reason to become shut-ins, spending all their waking hours shredding plastic toy guitars with their best Jimi Hendrix impressions.
The wild popularity of the game led Activision to release a slew of sequels that followed a successful formula: pairing rock's greatest thrasher hits with a "Dance Dance Revolution"-like interface that has wannabes hitting color-coded buttons on the toy's frets while "strumming" along to the beat.
In 2007, the franchise made the leap to a portable gaming system, the Nintendo DS, with "Guitar Hero: On Tour."
"Guitar Hero: On Tour Decades" (Activision, $49.99 for bundle that includes guitar grip, $34.99 for software) follows up where that first game left off.
But like its predecessor, "Decades" falls flat -- due mostly to the four-button guitar grip attachment required to play the game.
The rules of "Decades" are simple enough. Pick a virtual musician to become your alter ego, choose to play the guitar, rhythm guitar or bass, form a band and hit the club circuit.
In this case, the clubs are venues that cater to the music of a particular decade: the Aughts, the Nineties, the Eighties and the Seventies. You begin in the present and move back through time.
"Decades" gives players a nice range of guitar rock, from Lynyrd Skynyrd's live version of "Sweet Home Alabama" to Weezer's "Buddy Holly."
You'll have to deal with a sleazy Ron Jeremy-esque promoter who's bound to like your sound as long as you get through the playlist. And you'll make some money (the amount varies by the level of difficulty) that will let you purchase new outfits to transform your rocker persona.
"Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades" sends the color coded "notes" down the left screen while a guitar-pick stylus lets you strum along on the game's right-hand touchscreen. The game will flip the screens for left-handed players.
The more notes you hit correctly, the more star power you'll collect, letting you unleash the virtual crowd's enthusiasm and give you a higher score. Shaking the stylus will give you some whammy-bar action that helps in the star-power department.
All this sounds great. But when it comes down to actually using the guitar grip, that's where your virtual life as a musician is bound to head off key.
The action is nothing like playing air guitar. It's more akin to scrolling your finger along the screen of an iPhone while tapping your fingers along its side.
When you try to master songs at a higher rate of difficulty, you'll feel carpal-tunnel syndrome coming on. (The game warns you to take frequent breaks.)
FOXNews.com unleashed "Decades" on some hardcore "Guitar Hero" fans, and they too, complained about the guitar grip cramping their style.
The keys were too small for their rocker hands and the design was just awkward.
The "Hero" fun, they said, comes from holding a controller actually shaped like a guitar.
On the DS, it's akin to playing "Dance Dance Revolution" while sitting still on a couch. Hard to kick out the jams, really, when your hands are all tied up.