Pupperazzi has one of the year’s best elevator pitches: Pokemon Snap with pooches. It’s a sandbox full of dogs, cavorting around, and you’ve got a camera to take as many cute and/or bizarre photos as possible. Sure, that concept may not be to everyone’s tastes, but I was going to get kicked and punched by everyone in our house if we didn’t get to review it.
Pupperazzi, then, should be a slam-dunk. It’s got a house of four going crazy at the prospect of playing it. But you could almost sense the disappointment as everyone picked up the pad. The Pupperazzi everyone had in their heads was nothing like the Pupperazzi that was in their hands. That’s not because it tries something different – it just doesn’t seem to ‘try’ much at all.
Take the controls, for example. Pupperazzi is free roaming, which is a different tack from the on-rails rollercoaster of Pokemon Snap. You can run about and take pictures of whatever catches your eye, dog or not. But ‘running’ is pushing it. You have the most astonishingly slow turning circle – even slower if you are looking through the viewfinder – and there’s no run button, so you are traipsing around these environments with a depressed looking plod.
Taking a picture isn’t too bad: you zoom with LT and then take a picture with RT. But taking a good picture is magnitudes more awkward and complicated than it needs to be. Welcome to the list: you have to dip into menus to change lenses. If you want a dog to follow you or show you affection, you have to pet it, but that dog is then in your face, and you can’t take a photo of it. Rub a dog’s head and the camera lifts above the dog, which means you have to track the camera downwards to take a photo of the amorous pup – and by that time, the little scallywag has run after something else. You can’t take a photo while holding a toy, so you’re juggling the two. There are dozens of buttons to learn, and far too many options buried in menus.
Pupperazzi should be casual and pick-up-and-play. It should be something that a younger player could jump into easily. But we’ve played free-to-play Roblox games that take this concept and nail it better. This is an awkward little toy, and you could see everyone’s face sink as they played with it.
It’s even little things like how Pupperazzi handles film. You have a limited number of photos that you can take (admittedly, with the ability to purchase more as the game goes on). So, you’re taking ten photos and then having to sort through and ‘recycle’ the ones you don’t want. Rather than take photos willy-nilly, you are forced to be careful. And who wants to be careful in a world where dogs are riding on skateboards and dancing around you? You want to be grabbing photos at every opportunity. You’re also capped on how many photos you can post online in a given play session. It’s like Pupperazzi doesn’t want you to play.
The world around you is at least somewhat colourful and jolly. Believability is let off the leash, and you have dogs on the Moon, playing arcade games and strutting around in Elton John sunglasses. There’s a simple but effective art style here, and the dogs react in cartoonish ways to the toys that you plop in front of them. As you drop a boombox they bob and dance around it, and you can get them throwing frisbees to each other.
But it never really goes far enough. The dogs are all your traditional breeds, but they crop up on almost every level and you’ll have seen your twentieth golden retriever by the final moments. In the best photography games, you feel like a voyeur, capturing moments that are happening around you. For example, in Pokemon Snap, you are observing creatures going about their lives and snapping as they fight, play and dance together. In Pupperazzi, the dogs don’t do anything interesting. There are no unique dogs, unique behaviours, scripted moments as they interact with each other, or anything really. It’s just some dogs bouncing around a parking lot.
Instead, Pupperazzi wants you to muck in, to use the various toys it offers you to get the action going. But every dog reacts in the same way to a stick, say: a dalmatian, pug or chihuahua will pick it up and follow you. Without events happening or anything that approaches uniqueness, you lose interest. It’s a sandbox that waits for you to play, but doesn’t offer all that much to play with.
There aren’t that many sandboxes, either. Pupperazzi opts for only a handful of levels, but then unlocks new times of day and weather systems for each. You will have the privilege of playing each level four times. But – again – not enough changes. Sure, you are given some new missions to complete, and the odd dog behaviour changes, but these arenas are effectively identikit. Secret areas don’t open up; the weather doesn’t change anything particularly. So, they feel much like what they are – a half-hearted attempt to keep you playing for longer.
As if to compound it all, bugs interrupt play. There’s a multitude of graphical issues, including glitchy, artifacted effects on the photos when you first take them, and these effects also crop up when you choose to play a level at night time. The toys are pretty erratic, with dogs selecting to ignore them or play with them on a seemingly random basis. And there are moments where Pupperazzi wants you to do a spot of platforming, yet the treacle-like turning and moving makes it clumsy.
Pupperazzi really does feel like a missed open goal. The concept of photographing dogs in a madcap, Katamari-like world should have made this an insta-purchase. We were incredibly on board. But too little thought and too little execution makes it a cross-breed of dull and messy.
If Pupperazzi was a dog, it would be a pug. It’s cute in theory, but it huffs, puffs and has trouble functioning, stumbling over itself when it tries to run. It’s tough to control, and so small that you wonder where the rest of it went. Pupperazzi, unfortunately, is more like the runt of the litter.
You can buy Pupperazzi from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S