Amazon Luna review: A strong start

There's something about Luna.
Amazon Luna Review
Amazon Luna, a cloud streaming service for gaming, lets you play any game in its library from most phones, tablets, and computers over WiFi. Brandon Russell

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After more than a year of invite-only “early access” trials, Amazon launched its cloud gaming service, Amazon Luna, in March 2022. It enters a crowded market of cloud-based game console alternatives, including Google Stadia, GeForce Now, and Xbox’s Cloud Gaming service. All of them allow you to, at least theoretically, play games at high resolution and framerate on any device with a stable internet connection. You can raid villages in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla on your phone or explore the dark, cerebral world of Control on a cheap laptop with no graphics card.

The pitch for Luna is primarily rooted in price. It features a modular subscription model, where you pay a few dollars per month to get access to different packages of themed games, ranging from family titles to retro games and more. (Of course, there is a small package you can get for free if you have Amazon Prime.) On paper, it’s far more affordable than Stadia, where you buy games à la carte, and more flexible than a $15-per-month Game Pass Ultimate subscription, which enables a similar library of streaming games.

We spent a few weeks testing Luna in its finished state and came away mostly impressed. It’s easy to set up and get started, and comprehensive support across various devices makes it accessible for most people with a strong internet connection. However, a thin library of games and unpredictable connectivity issues hold it back from replacing a conventional gaming setup. It’s a good start but Amazon has a lot of work to make Luna a competitive gaming platform.

Game the Amazon Way

How does Amazon Luna work?

Amazon Luna allows subscribers to stream games from a remote server, similar to the experience of streaming a movie or TV show via Netflix. You don’t have to install any games on your console or PC. Instead, the remote server handles the heavy processing and sends the information to an app or browser on your device.

Amazon uses Intel’s Cascade Lake CPUs for processing and Nvidia’s T4 GPUs for Luna on Windows servers. In theory, Windows support should allow developers to quickly move their existing Windows games over to Amazon’s platform. While there’s a range of AAA titles and notable indies, the lack of channels and smaller libraries may suggest that “easy to port” isn’t a draw for developers.

As we mentioned, the pricing for Luna operates a little differently than other streaming services. Rather than paying a single subscription fee, Luna splits up its library into a handful of channels, ranging from free with a Prime membership to $17.99 for Ubisoft+, which compiles the publisher‘s extended library.

Like Stadia, Amazon Luna doesn’t require you to own any specific hardware to play, but hardware is available. Specifically, Luna supports any controller with Bluetooth support, including the current Xbox controller and PlayStation DualSense. Amazon makes a Luna controller specifically for the platform, which costs $69.99.

Amazon Luna Review
Luna lets you subscribe to different libraries with specific sets of games, including a kid-friendly family subscription. Brandon Russell

Just because you don’t need a console or dedicated gaming PC doesn’t mean there aren’t any requirements, as you do need a compatible device—these include a Windows or Mac PC, Android devices, iPhones, iPads, and Fire TV gear. (The complete list of compatible devices can be found here.) Chances are that you already own at least one device that Luna supports.

The kicker, however, is that you also need an internet connection capable of a steady 10 Mbps or higher. That doesn’t sound like a lot, especially if you’re used to downloading games on consoles or PC, but you’d be surprised how a connection can dip as you add more and more devices connected to your network. We recommend avoiding other bandwidth-hogging activities while using Luna at the bare minimum.

How does Amazon Luna perform?

Setting up Luna is surprisingly straightforward. After downloading a smartphone app to connect the Luna Controller to my Amazon account, I played Devil May Cry 5 through Google Chrome within 15 minutes of opening the box. The minor annoyances of the modern console were nowhere to be seen; no pesky updates or cables to plug in and no worrying about storage limitations of my console’s hard drive.

I tested Luna across various devices, including a MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, and Fire TV Stick 4K. It was easy to get up and running on every one of my devices and was especially fun on the iPad Pro because I could quickly launch a game while writing this review. This broad compatibility is incredibly convenient because you can swap among all your devices at will and not lose a step. Play on your computer, save your progress, then head out the door and pick things up where you left off on your phone. 

As smooth as it is to get started, I did encounter a few technical hiccups while playing. Even under the best possible network conditions, playing a slow-paced game like Call of the Sea, I encountered a popup on my MacBook Pro that warned me about network issues. Amazon recommends a 10 Mbps connection or better for a 1080p stream: I have a fiber connection ported through an eero mesh Wi-Fi router and pay for 80 Mbps down and 80 Mbps up. In theory, I have more than enough bandwidth for this to work smoothly. Still, I received warnings about network issues multiple times, followed by a brief stutter. I can forgive—and even expect—a few random internet hangups here and there, but it happened too frequently to ignore or attribute to random bad luck. Weirdly, I ran into far fewer stutters on my iPad Pro and Fire TV Stick 4K. On those platforms, things did run smoothly and I often forgot I was streaming and not running these games locally.

Still, that inconsistency highlights one of the biggest hurdles cloud gaming has to contend with as it searches for a larger audience. Connection issues—being able to deliver the promised fidelity without technical issues—has been a massive hurdle for streaming to date. So far, Luna seems just as stuck in the quagmire as its competitors, if not more so.

Luna maxes out at 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second to maximize performance regardless of which device you play on. That falls short of what many players look for from non-streamed games, especially on consoles, thanks to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, not to mention what you can get from streaming services like Google Stadia Pro. Despite that, I don’t mind Amazon capping it at 1080p to get a smoother experience. 

Amazon says Luna will consume roughly 10GB per hour, so be aware if you have an internet plan with a monthly data cap.

The Luna Controller is great …

Amazon Luna Review
Amazon’s Luna Controller is a worthwhile upgrade for Luna users. Brandon Russell

You will probably want to bring your controller to the mix, no matter your device. If you have a Bluetooth controller or wireless mouse and keyboard, that will do the trick. (In a pinch, you can even use on-screen controls on your mobile device.) The Luna Controller, however, offers the best experience because it cuts down on latency and makes switching between devices effortless.

Taking aesthetic cues from the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, the Luna Controller has a nice heft and features textured grips that make it comfortable to hold over longer gaming sessions. The buttons and triggers are nice and clicky and the dual offset analog thumbsticks feel precise. If I had to complain, the D-pad feels mushy, which isn’t ideal for certain games. Also, it relies on two AA batteries for power, which generates e-waste (though you can offset some with rechargeable batteries). It is especially jarring in this case since the controller has a USB-C port.

And there’s a technical reason to use a Luna Controller over another controller. Only the Luna controller can connect to Amazon’s custom game servers over Wi-Fi, which cuts out a fair amount of input latency or “lag” in the controller. When playing fast-paced games, or those that require precise timing, a noticeable input lag can mess with your timing and the overall feel of a game. Amazon claims connecting the Luna Controller via Wi-Fi reduces “roundtrip” latency by 17-30 milliseconds compared to a local Bluetooth connection. In my testing, latency with the Luna Controller over Wi-Fi was virtually imperceptible and felt more responsive than a controller connected over Bluetooth.

Using Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth also makes it easy to jump from one screen to another without needing to pair and re-pair. Jumping seamlessly between devices is impressive and I have yet to encounter any issues. 

… but the library of games is fairly thin.

Amazon Luna Review
Luna+, the generalist subscription, has over 100 games. Brandon Russell

Since Luna doesn’t give you a single subscription for games, the number and quality of your gaming library directly correspond to the subscription (or subscriptions) you choose. As of April 2022, there are five channels you can subscribe to, not including the Amazon Prime channel, which rotates a few games monthly for Prime subscribers. The closest thing to a one-stop-shop, Luna+, gives you access to over 100 games across many different categories for $9.99 per month.

The other channels offer a hodge-podge of more specific game libraries, such as a $4.99-per-month Family Channel full of kid-friendly games or a Retro Channel with remasters and older game collections for $4.99 per month. There are also two brand-specific options: the Jackbox Channel, offering access to the complete series of perennial party games for $4.99 per month, and Ubisoft+, for a substantial $17.99 per month.

The different channels cater to different audiences and provide a nice balance of content. I enjoyed Luna+ and Ubisoft+, but the Retro Channel was my favorite, offering games I grew up playing. It takes me back to when I would spend my summers at the arcade playing Metal Slug 3, Street Fighter II, and 1943. It’s a nice jolt of nostalgia for only $4.99 per month; I suspect the Retro Channel will appeal to other gamers who grew up in arcades.

Luna’s library will be the most significant question mark moving forward. While there’s a decent mix of genres, the library may lack the sheer volume of titles found on services like Xbox Game Pass and Sony’s upcoming PlayStation Plus Premium subscription. The Luna Plus Channel features approximately 100 games, which should keep subscribers busy for a while. Still, it’s not nearly as robust as Xbox Cloud Gaming, which is $14.99 per month and offers over 400 titles and more recently released titles. 

Luna+ has a few big hits from the last few years—including Control, Resident Evil 7, and Devil May Cry 5—but, generally, lacks timely releases from major studios. At best, it positions itself as a grab-bag for people who like the idea of having access to games but aren’t invested in the specifics of what they’re playing.

One last thing worth mentioning: Luna has an exciting feature called Luna Couch. You can invite friends to play multiplayer games found in any one of the Luna Channels—and they won’t be required to have a Luna subscription. The most exciting part is you can play online multiplayer in games that only offer local multiplayer. That means you can race against a friend in Sonic Team Racing as if they were sitting next to you. It’s a niche feature that helps Amazon’s service stand out against the competition and is a fantastic way to play online with friends who don’t have a Luna subscription.

So, who should subscribe to Amazon Luna?

Amazon Luna Review
The Luna controller bears a strong resemblance to the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. Brandon Russell

We’re a few years into the new wave of cloud-based game streaming, but it’s still a tough sell. The standards set by consoles and PCs are deeply ingrained in players, so finding a large audience will always be a challenge–especially now that a new console generation has raised the bar for graphics and framerate. At the moment, Amazon Luna isn’t going to convince console gamers to take the leap: It doesn’t have the breadth of content or performance, nor does it make a really strong case financially.

Luna could become an enticing option for lapsed or casual players who want to play some games but have little interest in buying hardware or playing new games. The service usually works well across devices you already own, especially if you pair it with the Luna Controller. If you don’t own a console or want to test the waters of cloud gaming, $6 to $10 per month is a much easier pill to swallow than spending nights and weekends scouring sites for a PS5.