Hands-On: Amazon Luna’s Early Access is better than other streaming services, but offers little content

Amazon has decided to get into the game streaming business with its new service, Amazon Luna. You know the deal here. Amazon puts a bunch of game software on high powered servers that run them at high spec. You connect to these servers via the internet and play them remotely. Your inputs are sent to the server, the video feed is sent back to you. You can play on your PC or Mac or any Amazon streaming device like a Fire Stick or Fire TV. It’s a simple concept and everyone is doing it these days.

The problem is that everyone isn’t necessarily doing it well. I have tried every single game streaming service available from Playstation Now to Stadia and not even one has felt anything remotely like standard local gameplay. I’d experience input lag, stuttering visuals, and I’d find precision games like fighting games and shooters to be close to unplayable. Full disclosure, my pipe is 10 up 350 down, which is greater than the recommended specs for all of these services (Feel free to grumble at Comcast for not offering symmetrical pipes in my area.)

The thing that blew me away about Amazon Luna? It works. It just works. With the same connection I have been using to test Stadia and every other streaming platform out there, Amazon Luna vastly, VASTLY outperformed them all. I tried numerous games in their library and I did not experience input lag on a single one. The picture never stuttered whether I was playing on wi-fi or wired, in a browser or via the app, on my desktop, or on a tablet. Luna works to an almost scary degree.

Frankly, there has to be some sort of smoke and mirrors here. It can’t just be that Amazon has faster servers. Whatever technology they are using, Amazon Luna felt like local play. I’m as surprised as you are.

That being said, I’m not sure this makes Amazon Luna the “best” game streaming service because it has a variety of problems. It is very finicky about recognizing controllers, for one. I had to tinker with getting my Dualshock 4 and Xbox One controller to be recognized either in the Luna app or in browser for longer than I really should have. Some games require a controller on Luna that wouldn’t necessarily require a controller if you played them on, say, Steam, so if you can’t get a controller working you are out of luck. No Joy2Key workarounds for you.

This might all be a way to get you to buy the Luna Controller which supposedly connects directly to the internet and the Luna Gaming Server in order to reduce latency even more. Frankly, I have to believe that’s smoke and mirrors too. I didn’t notice any latency with my plain old Dualshock… when I got it working.

I will say one of the neat features of Luna is that you can stream to more than one device at a time. This would be very useful for big households with kids. However, the pricing model is concerning. On Amazon’s website, they mention different “channels” like Ubisoft+. Does that mean that you are going to have to pay different subscription fees for each publisher?

That would become even more disappointing when you consider Luna’s extremely small library. Granted, the service is still in early access, but there just isn’t a whole lot to play here. In fact, I’ll just list the whole library here:

  • Abzu
  • Aotennis 2
  • Atomik: Run Gun Jump Gun
  • Blasphemous
  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
  • Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
  • The Castlevania Collection
  • The Contra Collection
  • Control
  • Cook, Serve, Delicious
  • Deponia Doomsday
  • Edna and Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes
  • Edna and Harvey: The Breakout
  • Furi
  • Ghost of a Tale
  • GRID
  • Hard Reset
  • The Iconoclasts
  • Indivisible
  • Infinite MiniGolf
  • Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth
  • Lumines Remastered
  • Metro Exodus
  • Obduction
  • Overcooked 2
  • R-Type Dimensions
  • Redout
  • Rez Infinite
  • Rime
  • River City Girls
  • Shadow Tactics
  • Shantae and the Pirates Curse
  • Shantae Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition
  • Sonic Mania Plus
  • SteamWorld Dig
  • SteamWorld Dig 2
  • SteamWorld Heist
  • SteamWorld Quest
  • Tacoma
  • Tangledeep
  • The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III
  • The Mummy Demastered
  • The Sexy Brutale
  • The Surge
  • The Surge 2
  • Victor Vran
  • Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap
  • Yoku’s Island Express
  • Yooka-Laylee
  • Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair
  • YS VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

That’s it, only 51 games, and only two of them are AAA titles. Everything else is just indie games, ports, re-releases, and smaller productions. The biggest issue with Amazon Luna is that I couldn’t find anything I wanted to play. Granted, the $5.99 price tag is better than paying full price for many of these titles, but full price is still somewhere in the $10-$20 for a lot, even less if you get a steam sale, so Luna will only pay for itself for so many months. Once again it’s still in early access, but the price may rise and you may have to pay more for other channels, which once again throws the value into question.

Luna’s U.I. is also extremely minimal, and this might be a good or bad thing depending on what kind of user you are. It’s very simple to just click on a game in a browser window and dive in, but there are few settings to fiddle with, especially technical settings. I had hoped to see a readout of my latency to the server somewhere, or the FPS the server is rendering the game at, but the option simply wasn’t there. In fact, some options, like controller options, aren’t even accessible on some platforms, like the browser window. Some pretty important options are buried too, like Twitch integration.

Overall, I was very pleased with my time with Amazon Luna. It was a better experience than any other game streaming platform I have experienced yet. However, I’m still not convinced. For hardcore gamers, I’m still not sure this is worth the value, even at its early access price. A bigger library and a more powerful interface would go a long way toward enticing me, especially with how stable it is, but it just isn’t there yet.

That being said, this is a fantastic value for the casual gamer, especially if you are already a subscriber to Amazon Prime. It’s a very low price for a decent splattering of indie games. The best part, in my opinion, is that turning your Luna subscription on and off is as easy as flicking a switch in your Amazon settings. So you can simply flick it on and pay the monthly price whenever you want to access its library, and then flick it off and avoid paying for a month you won’t use it.

I’ll be watching Luna like a hawk. If it gets more titles, this may genuinely be the future of game streaming. However, more titles mean a higher price and more users, which may reduce the quality of the service. Basically, this is Amazon’s game to lose. We will see how they play it.