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Amazon Luna

Amazon Luna

Written by Eric Hauter on 3/31/2022 for MOB   PC  
More On: Amazon Luna

It feels strange to be sitting down to write a review for Amazon Luna. I’ve been a Luna subscriber for well over a year, writing my first early impressions article back in October 2020. The service came out of early access in early March of this year, so I decided to take a look at Luna for an official review.

Surprisingly, outside of some new games and channel offerings, I found a service that is largely unchanged from what I saw on the very first day I looked at it. While the performance of Luna may be improved, and there are more subscription options available, I’m not certain that the service has evolved much in the last 18 months.

A look at the Luna UI from October 2020. Things are pretty much unchanged.

For the sake of some table setting for those that aren’t familiar, Amazon Luna is Amazon’s streaming video game platform. There are several tiers of subscription available, divided into “channels”. For $5.99 a month, the Luna+ Channel offers access to a nice selection of indie titles, including some slightly older AAA indie games like Control, Kingdom Come Deliverance, and Metro Exodus. The channel currently offers 118 titles from a variety of genres. Whoever is curating this channel does a pretty nice job; no matter what genres you are into, you will likely find something worth playing in the Luna+ channel.

Customers can subscribe to other channels ad hoc, offering a variety of experiences that can be folded into your Luna Library. The best deal is probably the $2.99 Family Channel, which offers a nice selection of titles from Outright Games (Adventure Time, Dragons, Spirit) and THQ Nordic (the Spongebob Bikini Bottom game), along with some cool, possibly lesser-known indies.

The $4.99 Retro channel is heavy on the old school classics, with stuff like Street Fighter II, the Contra Collection, Centipede, and Bionic Commando. The Jackbox Games channel gets you every Jackbox title ever made for $4.99 a month – which might be worthwhile just to flip on if you are going to be having a party. And of course, the big banger is the Ubisoft+ channel, which has pretty much every major Ubisoft game from the last ten years. Of course, the Ubi channel costs $17.99 a month, but it does allow players to access new Ubisoft games (and all of their rather extensive DLC) on the day of release. There are worse and more expensive ways to play a new AAA game than to flip the channel on for a month, knock the game out, and flip the channel back off. Of course, that’s not exactly the way Ubi is hoping you do it.

Just this month, Amazon introduced the Prime Gaming channel, which gives Prime members streaming access to a few choice games via Luna’s tech. The first month was pretty excellent, giving players access to Phogs, Devil May Cry 5, Flashback, and Observer System Redux. This is a nice way to try out Luna without signing up for the full subscription (I’ve kinda been wondering all along why they weren’t doing this).

So yes, there are a lot of options when it comes to Luna. And as advertised, you can play on PC, Mac, Fire TV, Fire Tablet, and Chromebooks, along with web apps being available for iPhone, iPad, and Android. But as I found out in testing some of these options, your results will vary depending on how you choose to stream.

For the majority of my membership time with Luna, I’ve been playing through Chrome on a PC with a wired Xbox controller. Like any streaming service though Wi-Fi, I sometimes experienced a bit of frame skipping and occasional pixelization, but overall, the performance is about on par with what I see with Stadia and GeForce Now. I was traveling last week and decided to try out Luna’s performance on standard hotel Wi-Fi. I was pleasantly surprised at the service’s performance, which allowed me to play games at 1080p in my browser with very little frame loss. In fact, the platform performed so well that I soon forgot I was streaming at all, which is quite an achievement for both Luna and the San Francisco Hilton Home2 Suites.

For the review, Amazon sent along a Luna Controller (more on that in a bit). I’ve had a 4K Firestick on my TV for about a year, so I was excited to hook up the controller through my Wi-FI to try Luna out on a big screen. Getting the controller up and running through the Luna Controller app on my phone was a snap, but I was deeply disappointed by Luna’s performance on my television.

A bit about my setup: I subscribe to a 1Gbps download speed via Wide Open West. I am running a Google Mesh Wi-Fi system with four “points” scattered around my home. My Firestick is about two feet from my primary router. I never have a problem streaming video in 4K, but Luna immediately began huffing and puffing when I fired it up. I tried a few different games; some of the simpler games played in a halfway decent manner, but games that require more detail or a higher frame rate were nigh unplayable. Alien Isolation, for example, was so choppy that the sound became unsynced from the video. GRID was running at maybe 20 frames per second.

I looked online, and it seems that it is possible to hardwire a Firestick to your router, similar to the way you can hardwire a Google Chromecast. But the equipment to do so does not come with the standard package, and online reviews seemed pretty pessimistic about the speeds one can get by doing so. It is a little confounding to me that Amazon is attempting to push video games through a device that simply can’t handle the pressure (and for the record, I’ve got the nicest Firestick I could find when I bought it). Regardless of whether the performance could be improved by an ethernet wire, I can only review what is in front of me, and in this case, playing Luna on my television is pretty much a non-starter.

I am not a gamer that enjoys playing games on a tiny screen, so I don’t do much mobile gaming. But for the sake of this review, I dutifully hooked up the Luna controller to my phone with the supplied clamp/handle doohickey and played for a couple of hours. It was fine, though I can’t imagine that many people actually play any streaming game service in this way terribly often. The data needs are absurd unless you are on Wi-Fi, and if you are on Wi-Fi, why are you playing on your phone instead of some other device?

The Luna controller itself is very nice, though I’m never a big fan of requiring AA batteries in a controller. This is 2022. We recharge things with USB cords now, y’all. Regardless of the battery situation, though, the Luna controller is surprisingly heavy and solid to handle. The balance of the controller feels great when it is resting in your hand. The Luna controller feels expensive, much in the way a good headset feels expensive. The action on the buttons is very poppy and nice, though I did think that the triggers felt a little shallow. 

For me, the biggest barrier to entry with Luna is its curated library. As I mentioned above, the choices included in the standard Luna+ channel are pretty nice, with a variety of RPG, sports, arcade, and action titles. But in the end, 90% of the titles are at least a year old. There aren’t many titles on Luna that I want to play that I haven’t played already elsewhere, and there is a dearth of AAA titles – and nothing newer in the AAA space than Control, which is nearly three years old at this point.

The content on the various channels doesn’t change very much from month to month, and many of the titles on Luna+ have been there since the platform launched in early access. Luna+ used to receive around four or five new games a month, but since spinning off the Family and Retro channels, many of the newly added games end up in those channels instead of the primary channel. The entire enterprise is starting to feel a bit stagnant.

Luna is also very light on one giant category of games that appeal to a huge swath of gamers – online multiplayer titles. Smite is available in the Luna+ channel, and the Ubisoft Channel of course has games like The Division, but for the most part, this feels like an enormous gap in the library. The “Online PVP” category only contains three games – Killer Queen Black, Smite, and Super Mega Baseball 3 – none of which is really a big banger that would draw players in.

Another category that feels sorely underrepresented in the Luna library is MMORPGs. These game clients are usually enormous, and being able to hop into an MMO without having to go through all of the patching nonsense would be fantastic. And Amazon Games has published two big-name MMOs in the past six months. With New World struggling to maintain an audience and Lost Ark being free-to-play, I can’t imagine why those two games aren’t available to play via Luna.

There are some other standard features that are missing that make the platform feel a little light. Trophies – while not a requirement (Switch, anyone?) – are still beloved by a large contingent of the gaming public. And things like Friends Lists and Parties are conspicuously absent from the platform.

In the end, Amazon Luna just feels a little light weight. I could see turning it on for things like business trips, when I just wanted to lightly dip into a few games while travelling, but over the course of this review, I was forced to wonder why I’ve maintained my subscription all this time. Yes, the games work well when streaming them to my PC, but I can’t really play them through my television via Amazon’s own streaming device. And while some great indies find a home on Luna – and the new free-with-Prime service is pretty cool – the selection available feels pretty spotty.

With the backing of one of the most wealthy and powerful corporations in the world, I just can’t help but feel that Luna should just be…better. A lot of people have been waiting for the “Netflix” of games to arrive, and while Luna certainly has the backend to be that service, it doesn’t have the maturity or the library of content. People forget – Netflix really came into its own when it started producing and promoting its own original content – or locking popular shows and movies into exclusivity contracts. The folks behind Amazon Luna would do well to take a look at that model.

While Luna is a good deal for folks on the road that just want a solid, inexpensive way to play some games, the hardcore crowd are not going to find what they need here. For players like me that enjoy playing the next big thing, Luna will continue to be an "also" solution - with a long road ahead if it wants to be the primary way that gamers play. 

Amazon Luna functions well enough (unless you are attempting to stream it through a Firestick), but a stagnant library and some missing features still leave the service feeling strictly “Early Access”. The controller is easy to set up and nicely made, but having to feed it batteries is a bummer. The new channels are nice additions to the service, but the core still feels somewhat hollow.

Rating: 6.5 Below Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories.  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS4, PS VR2, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here

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