Amazon Luna Preview

Not too long ago every company was trying to get into streaming wars. The wars continue today as we see new services like Peacock, Paramount+, Discovery+ and AMC+ popping up each week. Amazon first started off as an online bookseller. Today you can buy anything on Amazon, including your groceries. A few years ago, they started creating their own original streaming content (movies and show). It was a long time before Netflix introduced their own original content and now they drop multiple shows, movies and more each week.

The latest craze is for all the big companies to get into gaming and streaming. We have Facebook gaming, Google Stadia and even KFC gaming (a Twitter profile from the UK). Amazon is following Google’s approach with Stadia and attempting to create a cloud gaming platform, Amazon Luna.

Amazon Luna is a newest subscription based cloud gaming service. Customers pay a monthly fee ($5.99 per month, which will likely change after the current “Early Access” period) to be able to stream and play a library of games instantly on any screen. All you need is a Bluetooth controller, a screen and a fast internet connection to start playing.

Amazon Luna is currently in early access (by invite only) and I was lucky to get my hands on it. I had talked to a few Amazon employees who told me that invites were given out completely at random, however I signed up on four different Amazon Prime profiles to early access and the one I got invited on was my girlfriend’s account, because she has bought everything on Amazon during the pandemic. She was notified in just a few days that we’d been granted “Early Access” to Amazon Luna.

I’ve now played games on Amazon Luna for a couple of weeks and I’m ready to share my thoughts. Being granted “Early Access” to Luna just means you’re allowed to subscribe for the monthly fee ($5.99, starting with a 7 day FREE trial period). You are also able to purchase the Amazon Luna Controller and controller clip for your smartphone at a discount of $20 off, but any one can get that code since it is listed on the store page for the Luna controller.

CLOUD GAMING

Let me start off by saying that Cloud Gaming is a very cool concept… as long as you have fast, reliable internet service.

Streaming games onto any screen is still wild to me. Sure, we stream movies and shows (and most of our content everyday and it’s fine. However, with cloud gaming you’re controlling the content on the screen and it’s streaming from some server somewhere in a warehouse — is that how it works? Everything needs to be instantaneous and quick in gaming. I have no idea how this whole thing works, but when it does work it’s very cool.

Now imagine your internet is down and you can’t play any of your Luna games. Sure, most games on our consoles and PCs today require internet to play them — at least to be able to update them. There are still many games I can play on my PlayStation, XBox and Nintendo Switch without being connected to the internet.

Just the other day I was playing Days Gone on my PS5 and the internet went down. I was able to reset it and continue playing while it reset. With Luna everything would have stopped. Of course, if I were playing a different game, let’s say Apex Legends or Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout the internet going down would have booted me from my game.

Speaking of online multiplayer games I didn’t see many (or possibly any of those) in the Luna library. I’m sure they will be there for full release though. They’re probably just testing the servers to see if they can handle normal, local gameplay before they jump into streaming + online gameplay.

For me, Cloud gaming is a great secondary or even third backup plan for gaming. I primarily play games on my PlayStation 4 (or now PlayStation 5), then my Nintendo Switch, then my PC. I do like the idea of having a library of games to try out (sort of like Xbox Game Pass). It’s also great to be able to switch between screens and continue right where you left off.

Although I could take my Nintendo Switch off the dock and play in handheld mode when my girlfriend wants to watch a show on the TV (and that’s more instantaneous than switching from the Firestick to a tablet or smartphone). Of course, streaming doesn’t put a limit on the games you can play due to your processing power like the Switch does.

Controllers

OFFICIAL AMAZON LUNA CONTROLLER

The official Amazon Luna controller is not necessary for this service, but they claim that Luna responds better due to Cloud Direct technology. When using any other controller you must connect via Bluetooth, but with the Luna Controller you can connect straight to your Wi-fi service.

Powered by Cloud Direct technology
“Luna Controller connects directly to Amazon’s custom game servers, improving response time and precision.”

Luna Controller box specs

The main difference I noticed when using Cloud Direct technology (connecting to Wi-fi network instead of via Bluetooth) was that the Luna Controller can seamlessly switch between devices this way. With any other controller you’d have to disconnect from one device and reconnect to the other.

The overall design of the controller feels comfortable. The textured non-slip grip allows the controller remain firmly in your hands. The joysticks roll smoothly in 360 degrees, while the D-pad feels almost like the XBox One D-pad. They basically just used took the Xbox One and Nintendo Switch Pro Controllers as a base to create something pretty similar. It has a USB-C port for connecting directly to your device, since it uses two AA batteries (which were provided in the box).

One complaint I have not with controller design but with using a controller overall is that the controller doesn’t navigate the Luna pre-game menu. On the iPhone and iPad using the Luna app you’re forced to use touch controls until you open an actual game. That isn’t a deal breaker, but it’s kind of annoying if you have the controller attached to your iPhone using the smartphone clip. When I connect my controller to my PC using Steam I’m able to start navigating the Steam menu right away.

XBOX ONE CONTROLLER

Since I had heard the Amazon Luna Controller just works better with the service I purchased it. I also just thought I should go all out with Luna if I was going to test out the service to write about it. I can also always return the controller since I bought it from Amazon (and I’m sending it back this week).

As I said before the Luna Controller connects directly to your Wi-fi, while the Xbox One controller connects using Bluetooth. The Amazon Luna Controller can also connect via Bluetooth, but I usually went with the Wi-fi (Cloud Direct) since they made a big deal out of it. When I finally moved from the Luna to my Xbox controller I noticed no extra lag or differences in gaming with Luna on my iPad.

Ghostrunner on Amazon Luna on iPad using Xbox One controller.

I tried out Ghostrunner using my Xbox One controller since it’s a game that requires quick response time and precision. It worked great and I noticed no extra lag or problems other than the normal ones I was already experiencing throughout my Luna testing. Most times while playing games with Luna I would get a notification of weak Wi-fi signal. Sometimes nothing would happen, but other times the picture would glitch or skip.

I don’t know if it’s the familiarity or if the Xbox One controller just feels great, but I do prefer over the Luna controller.

Screens

I tested Amazon Luna on three different screens: iPhone, MacBook and iPad. All Apple devices. I do have a PC at home but I thought, why would I use cloud gaming on a machine that I have hundreds of games between Steam and Epic Games store already to play?

iPhone Gaming
River City Girls on Amazon Luna (iPhone)

This was the first time I’ve ever clipped a controller onto my iPhone. It is a very cool idea. I don’t like it for long-term use though. It gets a bit heavy with the wrists doing the heavy lifting. I also don’t know the correct angle to set up the phone. Every time I used the gaming clip my iPhone screen was set at a different angle. The clip does offer tons of variety though.

Here’s a short video I put together of unboxing the controller, setting up the grip and finally gaming on the iPhone using Amazon Luna. You can see me navigating the menu with my finger which is annoying when there’s a controller strapped to your iPhone.

Amazon Luna Preview Grid on iPhone.

Cloud streaming is a great way to bring all types of games to mobile. Over the years we’ve seen some bigger gaming experiences on mobile, but still nothing like the AAA titles we get on our consoles. With streaming this will change and we will soon be able to play our big AAA games on any screen.

MacBook Gaming

Streaming games directly to my MacBook is definitely a treat. I have both Steam and Epic Game store on my MacBook and it constantly reminds me that most games are PC only (aka not Mac compatible). Cloud gaming on a Mac is sort of like a cheat code to allow you to play almost any game on there.

Playing River City Girls on Amazon Luna (MacBook Pro)

I take my MacBook pretty much everywhere I go, so all I would need to add would be a controller (or two for multiplayer). The problem lies in the internet connection strength. Amazon Luna may not be such a great idea while taking a break from work at a coffee shop. It definitely wouldn’t work well on an airplane.

You can basically take your MacBook (or laptop) to any private place with strong internet and you’re gold.

iPad Gaming

Of the three ways I played Luna, the iPad was definitely my favorite. I didn’t even think about using my iPad until about a week in. The iPad is perfect because it’s just a standing screen. It’s compact. I can easily prop it up like a small screen, but it’s also bigger than my iPhone screen by a great deal. You can even use it laying down in bed.

Playing Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night on Amazon Luna (iPad)

While it’s cool to play on your MacBook or laptop, the iPad (or tablet) just looks cleaner and feels better since there’s no keyboard or extra parts getting in the way. It’s like playing games on a personal television.

Something that the early Nintendo Switch commercials showed was multiple people at a bar or on a plane playing Switch together on one screen. I remember when I got Mario Kart 8, I was at my friends shop that day and I let a few people play with me on my Switch in kickstand mode. Each of us were using one joy con. It was fun but inconvenient since the screen is not quite large enough for two people to share. With an iPad screen you can definitely play multiplayer/co-op games without a problem. All you need is a second Bluetooth controller.

Game Saves

Amazon Luna uses cloud saves for easy movement across screens. You can start out playing a game on your Amazon Fire TV Stick and if you want to switch to watching something on TV while playing you can easily take the same game and your progression to your phone or tablet.

When quitting your game you don’t even have to create a suspend point or make sure it’s saved to the cloud. Whatever the game has last saved is already there waiting for you on your next screen.

Since I already play many large-scale games on my other platforms (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 & 5, PC) it’s hard to get into games on Amazon Luna. Control is currently on Amazon Luna, but since I already have progressed partially through the game on my PS5, I don’t want to start over there.

I play my main games on PS4 & PS5, my Nintendo Switch is where I play first-party Nintendo games and most of my indie games. I barely game on my PC, but since it has older parts I usually use it to play older games I may have missed (or whatever the EPIC Games Store has gifted me for FREE). Now, I have to keep track of whatever game I’m also playing on my Amazon Luna through the cloud? That’s too many platforms.

The ideal situation would be what Microsoft and Xbox is going for with their Project xCloud, being able to continue your progress from console to streaming. If that’s what xCloud does I may need to get an XBox Series X or S next.

Worth it?

Thank you Amazon and my amazing girlfriend for allowing me to test out this product early. Although I think this is a very cool and great idea and I love that cloud gaming is becoming a popular thing, I don’t think this is directly for me (just yet). Cloud gaming is something that’s cool as a secondary way to play games for someone like me. Perhaps if you’re traveling and moving your consoles around. When going to friends houses to play games, taking two controllers is way easier than moving a whole console, wires, games and everything else.

I think this is also a great solution for the occasional gamer who doesn’t want to go all in spending a few hundred bucks for a new console. Even if you were only going to get an XBox One or Series S for Game Pass games there is still that entry level price of buying the console, plus now you have the monthly subscription fee. With something like Amazon Luna you can purchase the subscription and either their controller or even a last gen or any third-party Bluetooth controller and that’s it. Now you can play anywhere.

If you’re a strictly Ubisoft game fan (or an Assassin’s Creed fan) you can pay for the Ubisoft+ plan and play those games as much as you’d like. Although there aren’t so many games (like XBox Game Pass) currently on Luna, it still gives you a place to try out multiple games, maybe some you would have never given a chance. And I’m sure they will have a much larger library for their full release. In just a few short weeks of testing Amazon Luna I’ve seen a few new games pop up.

From what I hear Amazon is doing a better plan than Google with Stadia. Last I heard, Stadia has an entry price or subscription price and on top of that you have to purchase games. If you’re doing Cloud gaming it should definitely be a subscription plan and everything is on the table to play. They can even have a starter plan for some basic games and premium plan which gives you access to more games.

If xCloud works out I would say that or something like that would be the best deal. To be able to take your home console games and saves to the cloud is just going to be great. There were games in Luna’s library (like Control) which I’m currently playing somewhere else. If I were able to bring my current save data to Luna from my PlayStation 5, this would be a great idea for me, but since I cannot do that (even though I don’t expect to be able to do that since Cross Save isn’t available in most games) I don’t want it.

I will not be keeping my Amazon Luna subscription after this month, but I am happy I was able to try it out. I may even jump back in at some point once they’ve gone full release, now that I know I just need my XBox One controller and my current devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook).

I would recommend Amazon Luna to people who want to get into games, but aren’t completely sure. Maybe you used to be into games but don’t own a console any longer. This is a great starting point to even test out some games and see what it is you like. Just make sure you have a strong enough internet connection.

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