I adore my two cats, Penny and Rosalina. I take photos of them almost every day. No, definitely every day – who am I trying to kid here? My phone’s camera reel is at least 90% pictures of Penny or Rosalina, curled up like some pristine doll or sprawled across the floor, limbs splayed ludicrously. Or Penny and Rosalina together, snuggled with their bums just touching. As photography subjects, my cats are irresistibly cute.
Working from home for the past half-dozen years, I’d spot Penny or Rosalina doing something adorable and take a photo to send to my partner, hopefully delivering her a moment of whiskered relief from her office job. Even since the pandemic saw us both working from home – me in the spare room that doubles as a study, her in the living room at the other end of the apartment – I’ve continued taking photos of the cats and sending them to her, so she’s up to date on precisely how Penny was sitting on the window sill next to my desk and given visual evidence of Rosalina chasing my mouse cursor across the monitor.
One of the few positives of the past two years is that my wife now delights in being able to send me photos she’s taken. Rosalina lying in a perfect croissant shape on the lowest branch of the scratching tree we refer to as the ‘sidecar’. Penny crawling onto her lap for a nap while she takes a lunch break. Such a Penny thing to do.
My Twitter feed is full of friends and strangers who clearly feel the same way about documenting their furry housemates’ every move. My wife estimates that about half her Facebook feed is pictures of domesticated animals, cat or dog. We’re not alone.
So it’s both a surprise and a disappointment that animal-snapping simulator Pupperazzi fell so flat for me.
It is an excellent pun. The kind of game name that instantly informs the player what to expect. Are you ready to snap some cute pics of some very good boys? You better be. Look, you’re already smiling, aren’t you?
And sure enough, Pupperazzi is a game entirely about taking photos of dogs. You play a literal camera on legs, viewing a colourful world from a first-person perspective. You travel between five locations – a secluded beach, a busy boardwalk, a city park, woodland falls, and a less down-to-earth area unlocked at the end – armed with a checklist of photo requests. You unlock camera upgrades, new areas, and dog toys by tracking down collectibles and gaining social media fans eager for your very good boy content.
Each location is populated almost entirely with dogs. They’re usually just walking around, but sometimes you’ll find them sleeping in a hammock or sitting on a playground swing, or riding a skateboard. You know, the kinds of fun activities you occasionally see dogs getting up to. You can pet the dogs, reaching out with your weird, elongated camera arm to give them a tickle, and encourage them to play fetch with sticks and frisbees, or chase after a toy car.
Interact with them and they’ll love you for it, following you around for a while in the hope you’ll further indulge their basic urge to run after a tennis ball. But there’s only so many times you can relent before boredom kicks in.
Fortunately, they don’t seem to mind when you stop paying them attention.
A clean, minimalist art style highlights the wide range of dogs, all kinds of breeds and shapes and sizes. But it fails to capture the expressiveness of a dog’s face and the boundless enthusiasm with which they can move. Instead, you’re left with a coterie of dead-eyed canines half-heartedly trotting around or listlessly rocking back and forth on a bicycle. There’s just not a lot to be gained from trying to interact with these creatures.
Objectives appear in the form of requests from your social media fans. You might have to take a close-up of a dog on a skateboard. Or track down ‘the spelunkers under the boardwalk.’ Most requests are straightforward and easily achieved. Drop off the boardwalk onto the sand and there you go, a couple of dogs dressed up in caving helmets. Make sure they’re centred in the frame and you’re done. It’s unchallenging stuff, mostly a case of remembering where you saw certain things or following some fairly simple directions.
I couldn’t help but wish for more complicated requests or more cryptic clues. Although, given the problems encountered in recognising whether the contents of a particular photo fulfilled an objective, perhaps that would only lead to more trouble. Quite a few times I was sure I had taken the correct photo, only to eventually realise I needed to be a few steps closer, or a bit further away, or I hadn’t quite nailed some other arbitrary detail for the game logic to verify my work. Such moments are too frequent and frustration quickly mounts.
The most fun I had with the camera was simply trying out different lenses and filters and amusing myself with taking photos I thought looked nice, rather than those that fulfilled any defined objective. The suite of photography tools isn’t exhaustive, or as daunting as something like Umurangi Generation, but if you purchase all the upgrades there’s a fair bit you can eventually do.
By the end of the game, I had about a dozen shots I really liked and was able to easily add them to my PC’s rotating collection of desktop backgrounds. If I rated games on whether or not they produced nice screenshots, then Pupperazzi would perform much better.
But in the end, I came away feeling oddly detached from the experience. I think it’s partly the simplistic nature of the objectives, but also that despite all the time I spent with these dogs, I never really got to know any of them.
You earn outfits and accessories for the dogs, and you can give them hats and silly shoes just by walking up to them and clicking through a menu. But it’s all lost as soon as you exit the level. Return to the location – which you’re expected to do to complete new objectives and take photos at different times of the day – and all the dogs are reset, perhaps even randomised.
Pupperazzi struggles to go beyond the obvious premise suggested by its witty name. Other than photographing a lot of dogs – so many, many dogs – there’s almost nothing else to do. While it remains charming and silly throughout, you’re not able to form any sort of lasting bond with any of these dogs. Your interactions with them are too fleeting, too inconsequential. That cute little pug I found snoozing under the picnic table doesn’t have a name, and she’ll be gone the next time I drop by. I can send you a photo of her I took, I suppose, but we both know you’re just going to delete it.
2 Stars: ★★
Platforms: Xbox, PC
Developer: Sundae Month
Publisher: Kitfox Games
Release Date: 21 January 2022
The PC version of Pupperazzi was provided and played for the purposes of this review