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Amazon Luna - Review 2020


Amazon dips its toe into the cloud gaming pool with Luna, its new game streaming service. Luna is currently in an invitation-only early access program, but already it shows a lot of promise. That promise comes courtesy of its $49.99 Luna Controller gamepad that uses a separate Wi-Fi connection to reduce a game’s input lag. It’s technically optional, but between its dedicated Wi-Fi connection and seamless ability to switch between Luna-compatible devices, we consider it an effective requirement to get the most out of Luna. In addition, the service’s $5.99 Luna+ subscription currently offers a small, compelling, library of a few dozen games, including many excellent indie games and a few AAA titles, and they’re all playable as part of the subscription instead of mostly a la carte like Google Stadia.

Amazon Luna menu

Luna’s Channels and Pricing

Luna is structured with multiple channels, similar to Amazon’s video streaming channels. You subscribe to different channels to access different game libraries. At launch, Luna offers the $5.99 monthly Luna+ channel and the $14.99 monthly Ubisoft+ channel, which is separately in beta. 

Luna+ offers several dozen games, including Control, Grid, Sonic Mania, the Castlevania and Contra Anniversary Collections, and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. Ubisoft+ features a separate library of the company’s games, including Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, Far Cry 5: Gold Edition, Steep: Gold Edition, and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands: Ultimate Edition. Watch Dogs: Legion is missing from the list, but Valhalla’s presence is welcome since it was also just released. Luna+ lets up to two game streams at a time, while Ubisoft+ supports one. However, Ubisoft+ also lets you download a game’s PC version through the Ubisoft Connect app. The pricing and structure are closer to the Editors’ Choice award-winning Xbox Game Pass Ultimate than Google Stadia, which is certainly welcome; you don’t need to worry about buying individual games for Luna.

Luna’s Play Requirements

Luna works on PCs and Macs through standalone clients or Chrome, Amazon Fire TV devices (in a week or two; the Fire TV app isn’t currently available), and iPhones and iPads through Safari. There is currently no support for Android devices.

Don’t expect 4K, HDR graphics like you can (potentially) get from Google Stadia and the Editors’ Choice award-winning Shadow. Luna appears to top out at 1080p and 60 frames per second. This shouldn’t be an issue on phones or in web browsers, but some games might not be as crisp as they could be if you’re playing on a Fire TV Stick 4K connected to a 4K TV. Amazon says 4K support is “coming soon” to both channels.

Amazon recommends at least a 10Mbps internet connection for 1080p game streaming over Luna, and that you should connect to your Wi-Fi network via 5GHz. My PC has a gigabit FiOS Internet connection, but the distance between my computer and the router means I tend to see closer to 250Mbps down and up. I see around 175Mbps down and up on my phone. 

Amazon Luna Controller

Meet the Luna Controller

The Luna Controller is excellent, looking and feeling a lot like the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. It’s a very solid, black gamepad with dual analog sticks offset in the Xbox style, and A/B/X/Y face buttons arranged in an Xbox layout. The sticks, face buttons, and triggers all feel tight and well-made, though the plus-shaped directional pad is a bit spongy rather than clicky. It’s very similar in build quality to the Xbox Wireless Controller.

Menu buttons sit around a big Luna button that lights up when the gamepad is in use. A pinhole microphone sits above the Luna button, while a microphone button sits below it (so you can use Amazon Alexa with the controller). A headphone jack sits on the bottom edge of the gamepad, again like an Xbox Wireless Controller.

The gamepad accepts two AA batteries, and features a USB-C port for wired connections and charging the batteries (if they’re rechargeable).

The Luna Controller connects to Amazon directly through its own Wi-Fi connection, which Amazon says reduces latency by 17 to 30 milliseconds. Setting up the controller requires the free Luna Controller app, which walks you through connecting it to your Wi-Fi signal. You can also use the gamepad as a standard Bluetooth controller, if you wish. You can also use a compatible Bluetooth controller, such as the DualShock 4 or Xbox Wireless Controller, paired with your desired device to play Amazon Luna games without the reduced latency. The service felt responsive with an Xbox Wireless Controller, but I could feel just a bit more input lag in games than I felt with the Luna Controller.

Amazon Luna Controller 2

Once it’s set up and logged in, you can use the controller to play games over Amazon Luna through any compatible device. Since the gamepad connects separately to the internet, you can instantly play on anything from a web browser to an Amazon Fire TV without juggling controller connections; Luna detects that your gamepad is connected to the internet and immediately set it to control whatever device is streaming a game on Luna through your account.

The Gaming Experience

I played Sonic Mania via a web browser using Amazon Luna, and I was impressed by the results. Controls were very responsive, to the point that I managed to collect two Chaos Emeralds and even beat a level of Blue Sphere (and I’m terrible at Blue Sphere). If you were to tell me I was playing on local hardware, I would have believed you if it wasn’t for a few small hiccups. Occasionally, the game stuttered for a moment during a gameplay session, and I got a message stating that the network connection was unstable. This was rare, and the gameplay was smooth for the most part.

Amazon Luna Yooka Laylee

I also played Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair through Luna in a PC web browser and on my iPad. In both cases, Luna performed quite well. The 1080p picture was bright and crisp, and controls felt very responsive. I also experienced occasional stutters in this game, with pop-up warnings about network issues, but they were few and far between, and didn’t disrupt most of the experience.

Finally, I played Control (an excellent cloud streaming game on Nintendo Switch) on my iPad to see how 3D games feel over Luna. The graphics were consistently sharp and smooth, and the controls felt accurate, just like with the other two games. I could easily score head shots on early enemies with the service weapon, and maneuvering around felt natural. Oddly, playing on the Windows client didn’t feel nearly as good, as there was significantly more input lag. I also had some issues installing the client on my test PC, but fortunately both issues can be ignored simply by using Luna in a Chrome tab instead. The interface and performance both seem more responsive and easier to use in this form.

Amazon Luna Control

A Bright Future

Even as an early access service, Amazon Luna is an impressive streaming game platform. The Luna Controller’s separate Wi-Fi connection makes it feel closer to playing on local hardware than any other cloud gaming service I’ve tried, and the gamepad is excellent. The channel-based pricing structure offers flexibility, with the $6 Luna+ channel being a good deal for the handful of excellent games you get through it. We’ll see how Luna grows out of its invitation-only early access stage and into a full service, but for now it’s an excellent way to play some games on your Fire TV, iOS device, or web browser. The $50 Luna Controller is a must-have to play on Luna, both for its low input latency and its seamless switching between different devices. It also makes a dandy Bluetooth gamepad, as well.

Unfortunately, if you want to play games on your Android phone or tablet, you’re out of luck. For those devices, consider getting the Editors’ Choice award-winning Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (especially if you have an Xbox, or a Windows 10 gaming PC). It offers cloud gaming for hundreds of games, along with downloadable games for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows 10. Of course, you can also get Google Stadia, though even a year after launch its pickings are pretty slim, and you need to buy games individually outside of the handful included with Stadia Pro.

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