Pupperazzi isn’t about taking pictures — it’s about being a camera. The first time I saw my shadow on the ground, with its blocky rectangular body and goofily extendable limbs, I realized the game simply had no need for a human avatar. This world was built for dogs, and you were built to take pictures of them. Pupperazzi asks what’s unnecessary in that world and throws it out to make room for more of the things that matter.
Dogs at the beach. Dogs hanging out with their friends. Dogs asleep in hammocks. Dogs doing sick skateboard tricks. Every level is a canine paradise, and you’re the one lucky enough to be tasked with capturing it.
While Pupperazzi is dedicated to letting you live out your dreams as a pup photographer, there’s also nothing to stop you from slacking off. The dogs also want to play and to be pet. That’s what your cartoonishly noodle-like arms are for. In practice, this means that the game will provide prompts like asking you to take a picture of two puppies playing with a Frisbee. Completing them rewards you with currency for buying new film and lenses, as well as social media followers which steadily advance the game. You unlock new locations, or new times of day and weather for exploring the earlier levels. And with those come new objectives.
But there’s nothing forcing you to actually follow these objectives. Currency can be found in the levels themselves. You can also upload any picture you like to DogNET, where someone always has something nice to say that will gain you a small boost in followers. And outside of the loose direction of the prompts, Pupperazzi doesn’t have any prescriptive ideas about how photographs should be taken. Even a completely botched attempt will get someone praising your avant-garde creativity online. Every upload is a hit of serotonin, and it’s great not to have to worry about any kind of restriction or criticism when snapping pics. The variety of comments also encourages experimentation, with different social media groups enjoying different styles. It’s a good trick to get you out of the habit of always using the most basic film and lens — a habit I would have stuck with otherwise.
Experimentation in Pupperazzi mostly means hanging out with a bunch of dogs, which doesn’t get old easily. Everything is blocky and colorful, making anywhere you point your camera a joy to capture. The dogs bounce along, their four legs stiff and springy. They wear random assortments of glasses, hats, and tiny little booties. They ride skateboards, go surfing, and bike straight into walls. Meanwhile, you’re probably bouncing along to the cheerful soundtrack yourself.
It all contributes to a significant sense of freedom. Though technically you are simulating a job, it doesn’t feel like it. Instead, it feels like Pupperazzi was created with a big serving of “hell yeah, why not?” Of course speed lines should cut into the screen when you run. Of course hearts pour from the heads of dogs after you’ve pet them. Of course you should be able to double jump. You need to be able to get onto the roof of an arcade to play fetch with a Labrador wearing a fancy hat, after all.
On the other hand, if you do follow them, objectives effectively nudge the player towards the game’s most interesting parts. Dogs like Darkroom Dad ask for particular kinds of film, and while your photos don’t actually have to have any artistic merit, it’s fun to see what you can do with some black and white film. Scoopmaster Timmy, the journalist dog, guides you toward secrets. Others will just ask for something they think is cute, adding little puzzle moments as you try to find out how exactly to lure a puppy into the perfect position.
All these tiny blurbs are written with the kind of bold enthusiasm that makes the world of Pupperazzi brim with life. It doesn’t shy away from wordplay and many of the recurring characters become likable just from the way their small snippets of instruction are crafted. Alongside everything else, Pupperazzi’s writing makes it sound like everyone is excited to be there. And what else would you expect from a whole bunch of puppies?
If you don’t get too distracted by throwing sticks and photographing every tiny dog wearing glasses, you can hit credits in just a couple of hours. But there will still be plenty of objectives to go back to, various new times and weather conditions that transform old levels, and yet more miniature bespectacled puppies awaiting their moment in the spotlight. Plus, there’s a great post-credits level. I’ve loaded up Pupperazzi to check certain details while writing this review, and it’s hard not to be drawn in again. Just one more objective, my brain whispers.
Pupperazzi offers up a whole bunch of dogs, lets them run wild and have fun, and asks you to join in. It doesn’t really care about how you do that — it only cares about making it easy. By cutting back on any restrictions, it opens up a playground full of cute things happening around every corner.