Amazon’s Luna Game Streaming Service Isn’t Ready for Prime Time Yet

A TV on a stand showing "Control" from the Luna service.
Amazon

Like Microsoft, Google, and Nvidia, Amazon wants in on the game streaming craze. Rather than buy an expensive PC or Console, you can subscribe to a service and stream high-end games to your tablet or weak PC. I tried out Amazon’s take, called Luna, and a few hours is enough to say it needs more time to bake.

That isn’t to say the service is terrible so far, but it’s not a competent gaming machine replacement—at least not yet. But before I get ahead myself, here’s the basic info about Luna you need to know.

Currently, you need an invite to join Luna, which is one sign of admission that Amazon knows the service isn’t ready for everyone yet. Once you get an invite, you can sign up for a seven-day trial, and after that, it’s $5.99 a month (though eventually, that price will go up).

Your money gets you access to 50 games in the Luna library, no need to pay extra. Optional subscription extras will net you extra games down the road, but the library is limited right now. Amazon mentioned Resident Evil 7 as a launch title, for instance, but it’s not in my game list, so I couldn’t test it.

Speaking of the game list, you won’t find any of the latest AAA games here. Nor will you find any fighter games (ala Street Fighter) or online multiplayer. The limitations don’t end there, you can’t stream above 1080p currently, you can’t play on Android, and you can subscribe to any of the upcoming channels yet.

The App is Pretty Good

A view of the Luna home screen
Amazon

I tested Luna on a Windows PC connected to fast internet, just to get the “best possible experience.” Amazon says you need a minimum of 10 Mbps speed, without specifying if that’s up, down, or (likely) both. With my setup, I get 800 Mbps down and 200 up, so I should be golden.

The Luna App itself is well-thought-out and easy to navigate. A library button to the left gets you to a list of all the games available to play, and clicking on a game takes you to an informative splash page.

An internet speed test showing 820 mbps down and 200 up.
That should be fast enough.

If you’re using a Bluetooth-connected controller, the Windows Luna app automatically detects it and starts using it. If you’re using the Luna controller, you’ll need to pair it through the mobile app. The Luna controller uses a Wi-Fi connection to directly contact Amazon’s game servers to reduce latency and improve gameplay.

I bring up the Luna controller here because the Luna app wants you to buy it. You’ll find ads for the controller everywhere. It gets whole splash pages, and banner ads, and more. I don’t have the Luna controller because you can’t order it until you sign up for the service. That means you’ll burn through at least two days of seven-day trial waiting for it.

But overall, Amazon can get high-points for a good-looking, no-frills app that’s easy to use.

Lag and Latency Oh My

A screenshot from the "Grid" racing game.
Amazon

So what’s the problem with Luna? Well, beyond a rather lackluster selection of games, the actual gameplay is the problem right now. To be fair, when it works, it’s amazing. But when it doesn’t, it’s frustrating. I don’t have any experience with Stadia to compare, but the service should stand on its own regardless of competitors.

I started with Grid, figuring that the service is in real trouble if it can’t get a simple racer down. And the first night went really well. The game loaded quickly, the graphics looked good (for Grid in 1080p anyway), and I got through a few races with no problems.

Then I switched to Furi, a game less graphically demanding but less forgiving of latency and lag. And that’s when it fell apart. Furi might be the closest thing to a fighter game on the list. It’s an “action shoot-em-up” game that requires precise timing to dodge, attack, and counter.

I didn’t get through the tutorial. The game itself experience lag, to the point that audio became overly digitized and hurt my ears. Even when it seemed to be running well, my button presses registered just a bit too slow. I tried to compensate, but I died—multiple times—in the tutorial level. 

It was darn near unplayable; I gave up and shut down Luna for the night. Since then, I’ve gone back to Grid and a few other games, and while I don’t hit latency as much (and presumably the Luna controller will help), I do see lag frequently. At other times, the the games played fine again. It’s very uneven. And again, I have outstanding internet speeds, so the problem shouldn’t be on my end. 

Give it a Little Longer in the Oven

This is just an early look at Luna. You won’t find a review score here because we haven’t spent enough time with it yet and Amazon is clearly still working on the service. But if you get an invite, and you’re wondering if you should fork over your hard-earned money right now, the answer is “maybe.”

If you’re OK with a small list of games that aren’t in the AAA category (Control being the closest), it’s worth considering. When it works well, it shows a lot of potential. And if you want game streaming on your iPad, then it’s the only option currently, that’s a pretty good selling point.

But if you’re a hardcore gamer, you probably already own an expensive gaming PC or a gaming console, and right now, those provide a better experience. Some things are worth waiting for, and you should probably wait on Luna. It shows plenty of promise, but it’s not quite done yet.

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smarthome enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read Full Bio »

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