Here we are nearly a year after Google Stadia helped bring cloud gaming to the mainstream. In the time since, we’ve seen GeForce Now debut its paid tier, Microsoft integrate xCloud into Xbox Game Pass, and now Amazon bring Luna to the table. As a huge fan of Google’s attempt at cloud gaming, I was eager to try out its closest rival in Luna, and so far, I’m rather impressed, but the service is not without flaws.
Amazon Luna’s streaming tech is solid
One of the biggest issues I’ve had with most comments about cloud gaming is that it’s all about the price, the value, and that’s why “Stadia is dead.” Personally, I heavily disagree. I think the tech is what matters most. Cloud gaming needs to feel native and work equally great everywhere. That’s a promise that GeForce Now and xCloud have sorely been lacking in my opinion and where Google Stadia triumphs.
So, how does Amazon Luna stack up? Really well, actually. The streaming tech being used feels great compared to Google Stadia. On my PC, which is directly wired into a 400mbps internet connection, Luna felt completely native through its Windows app. The web app also worked well.
Moving over to an iPad — Android perplexingly isn’t supported at launch — I still had no complaints. Over wifi, the service worked equally well, and I couldn’t find any input lag while using the Luna Controller. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my DualShock 4 to work with Luna on my iPad despite the controller being fully connected and even working with Stadia through a custom browser.
As a bit of a sidebar, Luna’s web app on iOS is something unique and worth taking a moment to talk about. By simply going to amazon.com/luna on Safari from an iPad or iPhone, you can add the Luna app to your homescreen. At that point, it adopts a completely different design which feels like a native app. It’s really rather impressive but does need some tweaks to better work on iPads. Through the “app” you’ll get access to all of Luna’s games, account settings, and more.
Games on Luna are limited to 1080p, which means you’re not really pushing the Windows hardware behind the scenes all that hard. On the whole, the games I tested ran pretty flawlessly. GRID had no issues (though was clearly on lower settings), Sonic Mania ran without a hitch, and RiME was good despite regularly dropping frames.
Value & Library
During its early access period, Amazon Luna costs just $5.99/month. It’s not a bad deal by any stretch, but it is worth noting that you have to pay that monthly fee. There’s no way to use the service on a one-time payment like you can with Stadia. For many people, though, that might be a benefit! For $5.99/month, you get access to over 50 games in a slowly growing library. That’s much more than Stadia had at launch. Perhaps one of the biggest attractions here is the hit “Control,” but outside of that, the library isn’t exactly extensive. A lot of the titles are just fillers.
Still, it’s hard to argue with $5.99/month for this. The value is definitely there, and the streaming tech is there to back it up. Hopefully, Amazon can keep that in place for the full launch in the future. We don’t know what the price will be for the “Luna+” library. If it’s under $15, I think it’s probably worth it for a lot of people. If it’s more, that’s a different story given each publisher will have the option to have their own monthly subscription on top of that for access to those games.
But really, the value of Amazon Luna just comes down to what you want in your game streaming. At launch, Luna is definitely off to a better start when it comes to the value of your subscription compared to where Stadia was a year ago, but a lot has changed in a year.
The Luna Controller is not very good
Moving on to the controller, I just have nothing good to say about what Amazon has done here. The physical hardware of the Luna Controller is far from ideal. The buttons — and especially the D-Pad — feel mushy and plasticky, the controller as a whole feels weirdly and unnecessarily cramped, and the triggers are just awful. All of the buttons are very responsive and feel relatively OK during gameplay, but there are way better controllers out there. I’d much more quickly grab an Xbox or PlayStation controller over this.
The benefit of using the Luna Controller is latency — 17ms versus 30ms on any other input to be precise. “Cloud Direct” means the controller talks directly to Amazon’s server instead of using your computer or tablet as a middleman. For casual games, I don’t think this difference matters, but on more fast-paced, reflex heavy games, there’s a clear upside.
But still, I wonder if it’s worthwhile to put up with this controller.
The process of setting up the Luna Controller is far from ideal. To do so, you have to download a dedicated app for the controller. This makes some sense on iOS as there the method of playing Luna is a web app. On Windows, too, it’s a good method as not everyone’s computer will have the needed Bluetooth radio for connecting the controller. But having *one entire app* dedicated to what’s likely a one-time setup for this controller feels like a waste. Once you pair the controller, this app does literally nothing else! It would have been nice if Amazon at least let you view your game library from this app. Who knows, though; Luna is in the early days, and perhaps this is part of their roadmap!
Another qualm I had with the controller is just how it works. The controller doesn’t connect to Luna until you actually open a game. That means the core Luna app can’t be controlled by said controller. Also, there’s absolutely no way to know when it is and is not connected properly if you’re using anything that’s not iOS.
At one point, I tried to play GRID using the controller on my computer, and when the game loaded up, the controller was completely unresponsive. As it turns out, it was never connected! Rather, Luna was waiting for my keyboard + mouse input. On another occasion in the same game, the Luna Controller disconnected completely after I finished a race, leaving me again wondering why my inputs were being ignored. This happens far too often!
My biggest problem with Luna right now is that it’s just… confusing. I understand why most gaming services lack iOS support — Apple is purposely making it very annoying. Yet, Amazon took the time and route to find a solution, and I commend them for it! However, why doesn’t it work on Android? There are almost no roadblocks to getting Luna running on Android. To skip that at launch is… well, it’s kind of dumb!
Further, I hate that the Amazon Luna web app is buried inside of Amazon’s website. It works, sure, but it takes longer to access, and there’s not even a Progressive Web App. When I’m trying to play games on Luna, the absolute last thing I want is to see deals and my orders at the top of the screen.
Speaking of things I don’t want to see — Amazon of course put ads inside of Luna. When you launch a game, a big old ad for the Luna Controller shows at the bottom of the screen. Intrusive? Could argue either way. Out of place on a paid service? Undeniably so. Right now, the only ad you’ll see on Luna is for the controller, but the “Sponsored” tag right above it tells me that Amazon absolutely has plans to put real ads on this service.
Beyond that, though, there are a ton of other things I could complain about. There’s no multiplayer. There are no achievements. You can’t use a controller to interact with the library or UI. The list goes on. Right now, Luna is bare-bones, but Amazon can get away with that thanks to the Early Access label slapped on the service currently. Had they lacked that, I think Amazon would have been ridiculed far beyond what Stadia has ever had. Clearly, they learned from Google’s mistakes.
Where will it go from here?
Amazon Luna is a different take on cloud gaming from everything that’s already out there. It’s truly the Netflix of games, and that’s great! I think Amazon has the best streaming tech on this side of Stadia, but the service as a whole has rough edges — just like everyone else. The game library needs time to fill out. Core features like multiplayer desperately need to be added. The whole controller mess needs to go back to the drawing board.
Despite all of that, though, I think Luna is starting in a good place. The streaming tech is the most important part of a service like this, and Amazon got it completely right. Personally, I prefer Stadia’s model at this point, but Luna is going to attract its fair share of gamers too. Plus, the good thing about cloud gaming is that we’re never locked to just one option. I’m deep in Stadia, but I’ll gladly keep using Luna if the platform gives me a reason to.
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