When Amazon’s digital store launched in 1994, it was at the forefront of digital commerce. There were very few competitors in the space and Amazon was able to carve out a niche for itself as the leading online bookstore. Fast-forward several decades and that same company is giving game streaming a shot with Amazon Luna. But unlike in 1994, Amazon now finds itself in the middle of a sea of competitors like Google, Microsoft and Nvidia.
Does Amazon Luna have what it takes to be the next big digital disruptor?
Amazon Luna: controller and interface
Amazon Luna: catalog and interface
Luna’s storefront features a simplified interface that is primarily navigated by scrolling row after row. There’s a toolbar on the left, featuring buttons for displayed games, the library, games in your playlist, a search function, a “Couch” button (more on that later), a stream button to skip Quickly to Twitch Sessions and Settings.
In a browser, however, the interface is a bit cluttered. From top to bottom, you will see two toolbars not related to Luna Amazon.com, after underneath all of that, you’ll finally get to Luna’s curated content. Luna’s mobile app (or browser-based app in the case of iOS) is quite a bit cleaner. While the games are still packed in carousels and rows, each one features a large, colorful cover.
Tapping on a game gives you options to quickly start playing, add it to a playlist (which works like a collection of your favorites), or read trailers, screenshots, or even streamers who are currently playing. You can also read a quick Metacritic breakdown and check out more Luna games from the publisher. This is as good a games page as there is: it’s robust and useful, and I really enjoyed clicking through, looking at the streamers who were playing each game, and watching some trailers.
All Amazon Prime members can access a handful of games for free. It is a relatively small group, although they rotate periodically. An earlier 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 is clearly thinking of this as an Amazon Prime icing, rather than the kind of killer feature that would have users doling out $14.99 a month to start subscribing.
Amazon also wants users to buy a la carte “Channels” that house a themed collection of games. The main channel is Luna+. It costs $9.99 a month and features a catalog of over 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 aren’t quite up to the task. Games like Lost Ark and New World are completely absent from Luna. This seems especially damning compared to Xbox Cloud Gaming, which is included with a Game Pass Ultimate subscription. Y features the entire extensive lineup of Microsoft’s own games on launch day.
The other big channel is reserved for Ubisoft+, which features the studio’s big-name games, 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 is not owned by Luna. Your $17.99 subscription also lets you play locally on PC or stream on Stadia. (Ubisoft+’s PC-only plan costs slightly 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. The vast majority of these games are exclusive to their respective channels, which means that to access Luna’s entire catalog of games, you’ll pay $41 per month on top of your Amazon Prime subscription.
But it’s a bit of a retrograde way of thinking about it. Actually, many users may just want Jackbox Games, or play with family. And while the focus of this review isn’t on the collective quality of those individual channels, it’s not hard to imagine someone subscribing to something like the Jackbox channel for game night, or a family that just wants to play Overcooked. For those use cases, Amazon Luna’s ~$5 monthly prices are a steal.
As long as you remember to cancel eventually.
Amazon Moon – Controller
Amazon also sells a dedicated Luna controller. It works with Luna, but also with PCs and a variety of other platforms via Bluetooth. While it retails for $69.99, it’s frequently on sale (it’s currently on sale for $29.99).
I’ve tried *many* controllers, and Luna’s is pretty decent. They are 235.5 g without batteries or 281.5 g with its two AA batteries. That feels heavy in the right way and is very close in weight to the Xbox Series X controller. It features a USB-C port for charging and wired gaming.
It looks and feels like a mix between a Switch Pro and Xbox controller. It’s subtly branded with a small glitter logo and purple sticks below the thumb pad.
The triggers feature an aggressive swoop that makes them easy to compress and the buttons are certainly clickable, although they are a bit convex for my liking. The D-Pad feels a bit amateurish, but my main issue is with the thumbpads, which feature a deep cup with aggressive knurling. They’re not entirely comfortable, because they’re too small and too deep for my thumb pads to rest on, unless I’m playing with the tops of my fingers.
But I still like the controller, and that’s mostly because of its smart Wi-Fi connection, which uses a service called Cloud Direct. After setting up the controller with a separate app, your controller can stay connected to your Wi-Fi of choice, making switching between devices a breeze. The Luna controller still allows you to use a Bluetooth connection for other compatible devices, but once you start playing on Fire TV devices, it automatically switches 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, but Amazon has done a decent job of including features and settings in this mode, including configurable haptic feedback, slider buttons, and the ability to choose between Main, Arcade, and Driving layouts. Unfortunately, you can’t drag and drop buttons exactly where you want them, but it’s still a nice feature if you’re in a pinch.
Amazon Moon – Bandwidth
Like all streaming services, Amazon Luna burns a fair amount of data. There are only two video resolutions to choose from: 1080p and 720p. 1080p will use about 10 GB of data per hour, while 720p will use only half as much at 5 GB per hour.
These settings are configured on a device-by-device basis, and whether you’re playing on a PC, Fire Stick, or phone, the data estimates are the same.
Amazon Luna: performance and games
Before we get 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 various cooperative games with friends, even if they don’t have a Luna subscription. You start a game, click Luna Couch in the sidebar and receive a unique code. You can then text your friends the code and they can enter it.
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 awesome feature, this might be it. That is, as long as all of her friends have decent internet connections. In practice, gathering a group of friends who have an internet connection capable of streaming games is quite a difficult task.
As is the case with all streaming services, your experience is almost entirely based on the strength and speed of your internet connection. Amazon Luna requires at least 10 Mbps to work, but in practice, you’ll want much higher speeds and a stable connection. My main test was done on a 2.4 GHz connection, 358 Mbps down/41 up. That is, of course, more than fast enough, but I did notice a bit of flaking. On PC, that flaking manifested itself in drops in graphical fidelity and audio corruption. It rarely had an effect on gameplay though, and I was able to blast my way through Ghostrunner and Enter the Gungeon’s hyper-speed gameplay with minimal issues.
But on my Fire TV Stick 4K Max, I experienced more disruptive issues, including connection drops and pauses. They happened momentarily every 10 minutes, which was usually anxiety-inducing, but sometimes really frustrating. It’s hard to fully immerse yourself in a game when you’re expecting something to go wrong. During one particularly tumultuous session, I got so tired of being ejected in Super Mega Baseball that I put my controller down and walked away.
But no matter how bad the actual streaming is, I never felt like I was experiencing driver latency, at least when connected with Cloud Direct. Even when the visuals started to stutter, it still felt like my inputs were being recorded, and that made my overall experience feel better than what I’ve experienced on services like Google Stadia.