Tech giant Amazon entered the increasingly competitive cloud gaming arena with Amazon Luna. As of this writing, the platform is in a by-application early access period.
Luna gets new games all the time and we expect a few bugs in this early access period, but this article explores what the platform looks like now.
What Is Amazon Luna?
The platform promises no download or update times and near-ubiquitous hardware compatibility. It delivers these through browser access and a range of apps for different devices.
Accessing Amazon Luna
Amazon Luna is accessible on a long list of Amazon-enabled TVs and devices, Apple and Android mobile devices, and Windows and Mac desktops. It also runs in the Safari and Chrome web browsers.
The apps are accessible through your Amazon Luna account, accessed and managed just like any of your other Amazon accounts.
In writing this article, we accessed Luna through the Windows app and through the browser. Unfortunately, the mobile interface was not compatible with a wide range of smartphones at the time of this writing.
Because Luna streams games whether or not you have the app, accessing games through the app is not that different an experience from accessing them through the browser. The key benefit of having the app seems to be desktop notifications.
When you access Luna from the web (as you must the first time) desktop versions and app download, it displays links across the top of the Getting Started page, as seen in the screenshot above. Simply select the buttons labeled Download, Play Now in Chrome, or Play Now in Safari, depending on the device and browser that you are using.
Navigating the Amazon Luna Platform and Accessing Games
Amazon Luna’s homepage looks rather like the homepage for streaming services like Hulu. A Continue Playing category tops the page, followed by Editors Picks, Newly Added to Luna, games available on other channels, and so on.
This page does potentially display games that you cannot access with your current subscription. A “Library” tab shows only the games you have access to without additional subscriptions.
You also have the option of adding games to Your Playlist. This is important at this stage of Amazon Luna’s history. New games are being added fairly regularly, and a game that you were looking at yesterday may have moved since then.
Further, like the PC version of PlayStation Now, Luna doesn’t have a search function. So, even if the game hasn’t moved, it may be hard to find again.
Luna Settings Menus
Right now, Luna’s Settings panel is the place to go to manage all of Luna’s different compatible devices and services. That includes your Luna+ subscription, any other channels that you subscribe to, and Ubisoft+ and Twitch accounts that you can link to your Luna account for additional content.
There is also a robust Parental Controls menu. From here you can require PINs that a user must enter to play games of different ESRB ratings or to purchase games and subscriptions through your account.
And yes, Luna allows you to have more than one user profile on a single account. To access and add profiles, select the round avatar image in the upper right corner.
Initially, most of the games on Luna+, Amazon’s new game channel, are smaller and independent ventures or remastered versions of classic games like Sonic and Castlevania.
The best route to access AAA games on Luna is to subscribe to the Ubisoft+ channel or link your Ubisoft Connect account. Not all games on Ubisoft Connect are available on Ubisoft+ and playable through Luna. If you want to play older Ubisoft games, keep them downloaded on your computer or handy for your favorite console.
While this might seem like a limited selection, that is rather the beauty of it. Most of the games on Luna are relatively unheard of, but are gems in their own right. Consider looking at Luna as a library where you go to discover new titles rather than titles that you already know that you want or that you already have on the shelf.
Experiencing Games on Amazon Luna
The biggest variables in how you experience games in Amazon Luna are your internet connection, your audio hardware, and how you choose to play.
The Streaming Experience on Luna
Because Luna games stream rather than play from a download, things like storage are a lot less important than they are for gaming platforms like Steam.
This is helpful for people who may have stable internet connections but lack more potent gaming computers. Unfortunately, it also brings along several issues that do not affect gaming on consoles or from downloaded files.
When several people use the network at once, game performance suffers. You may be happily blasting away at zombies, but the moment someone else in the house watches Disney+, Luna runs into problems.
Similarly, during peak streaming hours, latency increases even if you are the only one using your Wi-Fi. The day that support launched for mobile devices, games on Luna still loaded and played, but the response time was so slow that games were essentially unplayable.
When connectivity becomes a problem, you can adjust the display performance to limp it along, but this is something that you have to do manually. Luna displays an on-screen warning when it notices connectivity problems, but it would be nice if the platform tuned the graphics down before they fell out of sync with audio and the controls lagged.
If connectivity is often a problem, you can check your distance to the nearest server on Amazon Web Services’ Global Infrastructure Map. The closest server to this writer is about 400 miles.
Controller Options on Luna
There are several methods of controlling Luna, but the primary method is the official Luna controller from Amazon. This is configured much like an Xbox controller, with offset thumb sticks, a D-pad on the right, and control buttons on the left.
There are two shoulder buttons to each side of the controller, and a home button in the center of the pad, with a menu, mic, and action button surrounding it.
Amazon Luna is also compatible with several third party control options, including keyboard and mouse, DualShock 4, and Xbox One joypads, all of which we used during the writing of this article. All input methods worked for all games, but some games work decidedly better with a keyboard than a controller or vice versa.
There is no major performance difference between the controllers. While the platform immediately adapts to each different controller, you need to change menus within games manually to show the icons for the controller being used.
The resulting options are to use the PC interface to change the game to the settings of the controller you are about to plug in, or to plug in the controller and then awkwardly change menus while all the icons are for a different platform.
Luna on Mobile Devices
Amazon announced Luna support on Android devices during the trial period. Unfortunately, it only supports select phone models, even when you access the application through the browser.
As several games on Luna are side-scrolling with less-than-demanding graphics, it is disappointing that Amazon does not support the platform at all on most Android devices.
Is Luna Set to Change Gaming?
Luna’s hardware compatibility is one potential game-changer. If more content channels open, the service could become a central hub where you can access all of your game streaming platforms, much like Nvidia GeForce Now. With Ubisoft+ already available via Luna, this looks like a possibility.
Whatever the future holds, Luna currently has an expanding library of titles for however you most like to play, with no download or update times standing between you and your games.
However, currently the hardware support isn’t as ubiquitous as one might hope, and the streaming experience suffers during peak streaming times. Hopefully, as we hit a general release, we will see these issues ironed out.