Hands-on with Amazon’s game-streaming platform
When Amazon’s digital store launched in 1994, it found itself at the forefront of digital commerce. There were very few competitors in the space and Amazon was able to carve out a niche as the premier online bookstore. Fast-forward several decades and that very same company is giving game streaming a go with Amazon Luna. But unlike 1994, Amazon now finds itself amidst a sea of competitors from the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Nvidia.
Does Amazon Luna have what it takes to be the next great digital disruptor?
Amazon Luna – Controller and Interface
Amazon Luna – Catalog and Interface
The Luna storefront features a stripped-down interface that is mostly navigated by scrolling through row after row. There’s a toolbar on the left, which features buttons for showcased games, the library, games in your playlist, a search function, a “Couch” button (more on that later), a broadcast button for quickly hopping into Twitch sessions, and Settings.
On a browser, however, the interface is just a bit of a mess. From top to bottom, you’ll see two unrelated-to-Luna Amazon.com toolbars, then underneath all that, you’ll finally arrive at Luna’s curated content. Luna’s mobile app (or browser-based app in the case of iOS) is quite a bit cleaner. While games are still packed into carousels and rows, each features big, colorful cover art.
Tapping into a game gives you options to quickly start playing, add to a playlist (which functions as a collection of your favorites), or peruse trailers, screenshots, or even streamers currently playing the game. You can also read a quick Metacritic breakdown and see more Luna games by the publisher.This is about as good of a games page as they come – it’s robust and useful and I genuinely enjoyed clicking around, checking out streamers who were playing each game, and watching a few trailers.
All Amazon Prime members can access a handful of games for free. It’s a relatively small group, though they do rotate periodically. A previous group offered Overcooked 2, Mega Man 11, Castlevania Anniversary Collection, and Skatebird. At the time of publishing, the group was Steel Assault, Myst, Control, and Garfield Kart. Amazon’s clearly thinking of this as a cherry-on-top of Amazon Prime, rather than the kind of killer feature that would have users dishing out $14.99 a month to start subscribing.
Amazon also wants users to buy into a la carte “Channels” which host a thematic collection of games. The main channel is Luna+. It costs $9.99 a month and boasts a catalog of 120+ games, including standouts like Ghostrunner: Complete Edition, Abzu, Control Ultimate Edition, Enter the Gungeon, and Super Mega Baseball 3.
Curiously, Amazon Studio’s own games don’t make the cut. Games like Lost Ark and New World are completely absent from Luna. This seems especially damning when compared to Xbox Cloud Gaming, which is included with a Game Pass Ultimate subscription and features all of Microsoft’s vast first-party games line-up on release day.
The other big channel is reserved for Ubisoft+, which features the big-name games from the studio, including Riders Republic, Far Cry 6: Ultimate Edition, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Complete Edition, and more. This channel costs a whopping $17.99 a month but it’s not proprietary to Luna. Your $17.99 subscription also allows you to play locally on PC or stream on Stadia. (Ubisoft+’s PC-only plan costs a tad less at $14.99.)
There are a few other channels, including the Family Channel for $5.99 a month, the Retro Channel for $4.99 a month, and a Jackbox Games channel for $4.99 a month. A vast majority of these games are exclusive to their respective channels, which means to access Luna’s entire catalog of games, you’ll be shelling out $41/month on top of your Amazon Prime subscription.
But’s that a bit of a backward way of thinking about it. In reality, many users might only want Jackbox Games – or to play games with the Family. And while this review’s focus isn’t on those individual channels’ collective quality, it’s not hard to imagine someone subscribing to something like the Jackbox channel for an evening game night, or a family that just wants to play Overcooked. For those use cases, Amazon Luna’s ~$5 monthly prices are a downright steal.
Just so long as you remember to cancel eventually.
Amazon Luna – Controller
Amazon also sells a dedicated Luna controller. It works with Luna, but also PC and a variety of other platforms through Bluetooth. While it retails at $69.99, it’s frequently on sale (It’s currently on sale for $29.99).
I’ve tested a *lot* of controllers, and the Luna’s is pretty decent. It’s 235.5g without batteries or 281.5g with its two AAs. That feels hefty in the right way and it’s very close in weight to the Xbox Series X controller. It features a USB-C port for charging and wired gameplay.
It looks and feels like a mix between a Switch Pro and Xbox controller. It’s subtly branded with a small gloss logo and purple sticks under the thumbpad.
The triggers feature an aggressive swoop that makes them easy to compress and the buttons are certainly “clickable” though they’re a bit on the convex side for my liking. The D-Pad feels a little amateur, but my main beef is with the thumbpads, which feature a deep cup with aggressive knurling. They’re not totally comfortable, because they’re too small and too deep for the pads of my thumbs to rest in unless I’m playing with the tops of my fingers.
But I still like the controller, and that’s mostly due to its intelligent Wi-Fi connection, which utilizes a service called Cloud Direct. After setting the controller up with a separate app, your controller can stay connected to your Wi-Fi of choice, which makes switching between devices an absolute cakewalk. The Luna controller still lets you use a Bluetooth connection for other compatible devices, but once you start playing on Fire TV devices, it switches automatically to Cloud Direct.
Finally, when you’re really in a pinch you can use your phone as a controller. This is never the preferable way to play games, but Amazon has done a decent job packing features and settings into this mode, including configurable haptic feedback, swipeable buttons, and the ability to choose between Primary, Arcade, and Driving layouts. Unfortunately, you can’t drag and drop buttons to exactly where you want them, but it’s still a nice feature if you’re in a pinch.
Amazon Luna – Bandwidth
Like all streaming services, Amazon Luna burns through a decent chunk of data. There are only two video resolutions to choose from: 1080p and 720p. 1080p will use an estimated 10GB of data an hour, while 720p will use just half that at 5GB an hour.
This setting is configured on a device-by-device basis, and whether you’re playing on PC, Fire Stick, or a phone, the data estimates are the same.
Amazon Luna – Performance & Gaming
Before we go into the nitty-gritty of streaming performance, it’s time to highlight one of Amazon Luna’s coolest features: Luna Couch. With Luna Couch you can play a number of co-op games with friends, even if they don’t have a Luna subscription. You start a game, click Luna Couch from the sidebar, and are issued a one-time code. Then, you can text your friends with the code and they can hop in.
It’s a stellar feature and there are currently 88 games that support it, including Lost Judgment, Killer Queen Black, Yakuza Zero, and Jackbox 1 through 8. If Luna has one killer feature, this might be it. That is, provided your friends all have decent internet connections. In practice, getting together a group of friends that all have an internet connection capable of streaming games is a pretty tall task.
As is the case with all streaming services, your experience is predicated almost entirely on the strength and speed of your internet connection. Amazon Luna requires at least 10 Mbps down to function, but in practice, you’ll want a lot more speed and a stable connection. My primary testing happened on a 2.4Ghz 358 Mbps down / 41 up connection. That’s of course more than fast enough, but I did notice a bit of flakiness. On PC, that flakiness manifested in drops in graphic fidelity and audio corruption. It rarely had an effect on gameplay, however, and I was able to make my way through the hyperspeed gameplay of Ghostrunner and Enter the Gungeon with minimal problems.
But on my Fire TV Stick 4K Max, I experienced more disruptive issues, including connection drops and pauses. They’d happen momentarily about every 10 minutes, which was usually anxiety-provoking but sometimes genuinely frustrating. It’s difficult to totally immerse yourself in a game when you’re expecting something to go wrong. During a particularly tumultuous session, I got so tired of being thrown out in Super Mega Baseball, that I put the controller down and walked away.
But no matter how bad the actual streaming got, I never felt like I was experiencing latency from the controller – at least when it was connected with Cloud Direct. Even when the visuals started to stutter, I still felt like my inputs were registering, and that made my overall experience feel better than what I’ve experienced on services like Google Stadia.