Angry Birds: The All-Purpose Guide to Three Stars [Part 1]

[Be sure to see Part 2 of our Angry Birds Guide, too]

Angry Birds is the number-one selling iOS app ever. I can understand why. Together with Angry Birds Seasons (with its Trick or Treat and Season’s Greedings sections), these addictive apps are my all-time favorite iOS games.

The only downside to these diversions is the gargantuan amount of time you will waste playing them. I might have cured cancer by now, if I had devoted the same amount of effort to that worthy goal as I have to Angry Birds. Instead, my reward for the many hours I have spent at my iPad is that I have earned a three-star rating for every level of Angry Birds.

For those of you who have recently emerged from hibernation and remain unaware of Angry Birds and its star ratings, let me explain:

As with many digital games, Angry Birds consists of a series of levels. The primary goal of each Angry Birds level is to eliminate pigs that are surrounded by various blocks (e.g., glass, wood, stone). You do so by launching birds from a slingshot, which destroy both pigs and blocks. If you succeed in eliminating all the pigs, a number of points are awarded. The exact number of points can vary a great deal, depending upon how many blocks (and occasional other objects) you destroy along with the pigs. The more you destroy, the more points you get. You also get a 10,000 point bonus for each bird that remains “unused” after destroying all the pigs.

Based on the number of points you attain, you are awarded anywhere from one to three stars. For the true Angry Birds aficionado, simply “winning” with a one-star score is not sufficient. Only a three-star score will do.

If you are seeking three-star enlightenment, I offer the following guide to getting top scores. This is not a set of tutorials for each level (all sorts of such guides are available on the Web). I consider those “tutorials” to be cheating. The fun of Angry Birds is to discover the solutions on your own. Rather, in the first part of this two-part series, I’ll provide general guidelines that should help you through any level of Angry Birds. In the second part, I’ll show specific examples of these principles in action.

• Experiment. When you first start playing a level, it’s useful to experiment a bit. Try a variety of shots from different angles. Try some shots that seem likely to be “bad.” Occasionally, you’ll be surprised; an unlikely shot will produce results that will turn out to be the key to victory.

One common example is hitting a rock with the intent to move it rather than destroy it. The rock may roll for a bit, fall and hit another object, starting a chain reaction that causes far more damage than you had imagined possible.

• Plan a multi-shot strategy. For many players, simply trying to destroy the most pigs on each turn is their entire strategy. Unfortunately, this will not typically lead to three-star scores. Especially on the harder levels, it can be difficult to even get one-star scores this way.

Rather, you have to plan in advance for the combined effect of two or three consecutive shots. You have to start thinking like: “If I clear out these blocks over here, it will allow my next bird to go through that narrow opening and hit that key foundation piece.”

Clearly, unless you are very lucky, you won’t be executing the winning sequence on your first try. Especially as the levels get more difficult, you’ll need to play a level over and over and over and over and over (and add several dozen more “overs”) until you figure out the three-star solution. This is what makes Angry Birds the intriguing puzzle game that it is.

• Take aim. If half the battle is knowing where you want your shot to go, the other half is actually getting it to go there. This requires aiming the slingshot in exactly the right direction with exactly the correct amount of force.

For me, this is the most infuriatingly difficult part of the game. The difference between aiming a shot to go exactly where you want vs. having the shot miss can be a movement of a millimeter or so in slingshot positioning.

Repeating a successful shot is often not easy. There are times I am certain I have done exactly what I needed, with the bird landing exactly where I thought I wanted it to land — only to have the shot fail to produce the previous effect. The only solution here is to keep trying till you get it “right.”

When you consider that you may have to accomplish the same precise aiming for three or four consecutive shots in order to get three-stars, you can begin to see why getting such scores can be very difficult. Still, for most levels, you should be able to achieve a three-star score within a couple of hours or less. You just won’t be able to get it on every try.

Sadly, I have never taken the time to record how I achieve my three-star scores. This often means that if I return to a level, perhaps to see if I can best my score, I have to start over almost from scratch — trying to redetermine how I ever achieved my existing three-star score in the first place. If you want to avoid this, I suggest taking lots of notes or screenshots while you’re playing.

There are things you can do to assist in your aiming. Here are the three that I use the most:

Use the path line. When you shot a bird, it leaves a dotted line trail showing the path it took. If you need to aim a bit lower or higher to get where you want, use the path line to adjust your next shot accordingly. When the “middle” of the bird is lined up with the path line, it should follow the path exactly (assuming you fire with the same amount of force).

Line up with a background object. Notice the precise position of a bird in the slingshot relative to some background object. For example, perhaps the left edge of the bird just kisses the right edge of a tree trunk. If the shot goes exactly where you intended, use that same alignment to repeat the shot — or adjust accordingly to slightly vary the shot.

Pinch the screen. Pinching gives you a more wide-angle view of the landscape, often allowing you a fuller perspective for lining up a shot.

• Using less birds is (almost) always necessary. It’s rare to get a three-star score by using all the birds in a level’s arsenal. The 10,000 point bird bonus is too big to pass up. If you destroy almost everything in sight and still get only one or two stars, it’s a sure bet that you’ll need to accomplish the same result with fewer birds.

This may sound obvious but the key to eliminating all the pigs in the fewest number of birds is to make every shot count. For example, if a bird destroys only two or three blocks and no pigs, you’ve almost certainly wasted the shot. Kiss your three-star score goodbye. That’s why, when I first start playing a level, I search for initial shots that do the most overall damage. There is at least one critical exception here (which I’ll describe more later): occasionally, you may need a bird to do minimal damage because it is necessary to clear the path to the next shot you want to take.

• Getting maximum damage. This is the flip side of the previous point. On some levels, you can destroy all the pigs with one or two birds left over — and still not have a three-star score. The reason? You left too many blocks unscathed. It’s time to go back and figure out how to kill off all the pigs while destroying more blocks. In a few levels, I’ve found that using an extra bird to do more damage is the better choice. For example, if an additional bird does 15,000 points in damage, that’s 5,000 points better than if the bird was left unused.

Especially in Angry Birds Seasonal, you can sometimes rack up huge extra points by destroying the Halloween pumpkins and Christmas gift packages. Pay special attention to them.

• Learning the pluses and minuses of each type of bird. By learning the subtle characteristics of each bird, you’ll be able to determine the exact shot that takes maximum advantage of each birds’ specific assets.

For example, with the yellow bird, when you tap the screen to speed up its flight, the bird takes off in a straight line from its current trajectory direction (rather than continuing in its arc path). By timing when you tap the screen, you can thus fine tune the bird’s final destination spot while it is in flight.

The degree of damage that a white bird’s egg bomb seems to vary a bit depending upon how far it falls after it is released. Generally, dropping a bomb from higher up does more damage. However, you can sometimes increase damage further by having the bird drop through a top opening into an enclosed area before releasing the egg. The bird itself then contributes to the damage. Just be careful not to wait too long — or the bird will touch an object before you can drop the egg.

The small red bird cannot penetrate a thickness of wood that the big red bird could easily do. So, if you’re using the small red bird, you should ignore a thick wood block. Look for a better weak point for the small red bird to attack.

• Taking horizontal vs. vertical shots. Most often, especially for red, black, and yellow birds, you aim the bird to go from left to right, with a minimal arc. This leads to hitting the objects with the most force.

Alternatively, you can aim the bird to go almost vertically. The latter will result in a high arc where the bird falls down into the collection of blocks and pigs, rather than horizontally slamming into them. This can allow you to target locations that a horizontal shot cannot reach.

• Knowing your blocks. Doing the most damage per shot requires finding the weak spots in the construction of blocks. If you can’t break through a thick piece of wood or stone, look for its underlying support. If you can knock that out, you may cause the section to entirely collapse — with the blocks above destroyed as a result.

Snow blocks in the Seasonal game are especially tricky. They appear to defy gravity, remaining in place even after underlying support is gone. The best way to attack a column of snow is from above: get a stone to start falling and it can cut through the entire column.

In the second part of this Angry Birds guide, I offer more specific advice, together with numerous screenshots.