September 24, 2020
Windows, Mac, Chromebook, iPhone, iPad, Android (Android 9+), Fire TV Stick (2nd gen and newer), Fire TV Cube (1st gen and newer), Fire TV, Fire Tablets, and Samsung Smart TVs. Check Amazon.com for updated list.
Amazon Luna was announced in September of 2020 when the company offered users the chance to be invited into early access to the service. I was one of the select few Amazon “diehards” who was excited that the company was coming out with its service and immediately signed up. After several months, I was allowed access to purchase the Luna controller for a discount ($49.99) with also access to the Luna+ channel ($5.99) and the Ubisoft+ channel ($7.99) at the time. I used the service quite heavily for the first few weeks, but due to outside circumstances, I had no time to play video games until the last year, when I was much more active. However, I never returned to Amazon Luna and its service. At least, not until recently, when Amazon contacted us at Wccftech to try the current Amazon Luna service and offer our review. As the resident cloud service/gaming writer, I was chosen for this task and felt that my previous experience would help, as well as the knowledge I have had with other “cloud gaming” services.
Currently, several “cloud” services on the market specialize in gaming. However, this is also where the services become compared, which is a slight misnomer about cloud gaming services. When most users think about cloud gaming, thoughts that come to mind are Xbox Game Pass, Shadow Cloud, GeForce NOW, Google Stadia (now defunct), and Amazon Luna. PlayStation Plus, Blacknut, Parsec, Vortex, and more are not heard of or spoken about as much. Each service offers a different service and becomes compared in the media because it carries the “cloud gaming” moniker.
However, with the Amazon Luna, the closest experience is with Xbox’s Cloud Gaming service, which can be accessed if you are a subscriber to their Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which will cost you $14.99 per month.
Amazon Luna is the “odd duck” in the cloud gaming scene. As of March 2022, when Amazon opened availability to the general public (US region), you can purchase the Amazon Luna controller to access the Amazon Luna service, powered by Amazon Web Services, which currently costs $9.99 for the Luna+ library. Users do not have to purchase the controller as they can use a compatible controller, such as the Xbox or Playstation controllers. Amazon treats its cloud gaming service similar to how its Prime Video service business plan is processed. You have libraries that you can subscribe to, which at the moment, are only three different channels — Luna+, Ubisoft+, and Jackbox Games. Each “channel” then allows you, for a corresponding fee, access to select games for each.
Amazon Luna — Cloud System & Controller Specifications
Amazon does not go into detail on the specifications of its cloud systems. Every service does not divulge full specifications of what system they are allowing users to jump into, so to find out that information, it took a fair amount of research and some ingenuity to find out this information ourselves.
Reading a post from two years ago on the Cloud Gaming Battle website, the team discovered that using the game The Division 2 by Ubisoft would provide a benchmarking tool. The tool is the same as found in the PC version of the title and was able to give them the information they needed. Since the article was written a few years ago, I went to see if I could provide similar or updated information about Amazon’s systems that they are utilizing. The title I could access myself was my copy of Assassins Creed Origins. The other title I had readily available was Far Cry 4, but surprisingly that did not offer a tool in the game to benchmark. Jumping into ASO, I ran a complete benchmark at high settings. I ran two tests — one with the suggested graphics and quality and one examination to place everything as high as possible.
I ran the first benchmark at the highest settings available for me to select. The benchmark test was terrible to watch. The frames continually skipped, and you could tell the system was being tasked on their end. Mine was still running quietly and was hardly affected by the benchmark. Here are the following results, putting everything on Ultra or Very High settings:
Now, here are the controlled settings by the software for users when booting the game:
However, all of this is a moot point. Cloud gaming is unpredictable at best and will require a good connection between your home’s Wi-Fi signal or Ethernet and the connection at the given time.
Let’s move on and look at the system Amazon Luna uses for its cloud gaming platform.
Amazon uses a cloud computing system comprising an Intel Xeon Platinum 8259CL processor with a base clock of 2.50 GHz. The graphics card used is NVIDIA’s Tesla T4 GPU. The system uses virtual RAM, and in both tests, you can see what was attributed to each, which we will get to later in our review. Finally, the system uses DirectX 11 API (driver version 471.41).
Intel does not classify or document the Intel Xeon Platinum 8259CL on the company’s website. For this, I traveled to PassMark Software’s website to see what this processor is all about.
On PassMark Software’s website, I discovered that the Intel Xeon Platinum 8259CL is a server-class processor that utilizes the LGA 3647 socket. The base clock speed is 2.5 GHz with a boost clock of 3.5 GHz. The Intel Xeon Platinum 8259CL uses twenty-four cores across forty-eight threads with a standard TDP of 210 W. The full L3 cache is 36 MB and was first discovered in the first quarter of 2020.
Regarding performance, PassMark Software shows that it outperforms the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX by falling short of the AMD Ryzen Threadripper PRO 3945WX. Still, the performance between the two is so negligible that an average user would not notice. However, a typical user would not be using this in their system as it was developed for Intel’s partners as a viable server processor, so for pricing, users on eBay are selling used 8259CL processors between $350 to $850.
NVIDIA’s Tesla T4 graphics card was much easier to find information on. The NVIDIA T4 is a Tensor core graphics card, an enterprise-level GPU found mainly in mainstream servers. It offers a low-profile design, producing 75W of consumption. The NVIDIA T4 utilizes Turing Tensor cores and is used not only for virtual desktops and cloud-based gaming setups (such as Amazon Luna’s platform) but also for machine and deep learning instances. Additionally, the PCIe 3.0 interface (x16) is smaller to be more optimized in the cloud and data centers.
The NVIDIA T4 offers 320 Tensor cores, 2560 CUDA cores, and a GPU memory of 16 GB GDDR6 memory with 300 GB/s memory speeds. The graphics card also uses passive cooling, unlike consumer GPUs. It supports CUDA, NVIDIA TensorRT, and ONNX APIs. Again, this product is not meant for public use and is only available to NVIDIA partners.
The RAM and VRAM numbers shown are standard in most cloud-based systems but are hard to compare outside of the fact that the system only allows for 60 FPS graphical performance, meeting close to most console and less expensive cloud-based options. You will not find this same performance for NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW, even at the free subscription tier.
For in-game performance, at custom settings and placing all options to the highest settings available, the benchmark had an average FPS of 28. When going with stock settings, the frames per second increased, but only to about 33 FPS. Also, we went from “Very Low” to “Unstable” performance. I tried to access this same benchmarking tool through Xbox Cloud Gaming and found that it is unavailable as the platform uses custom console systems that console versions of all the games on their service. This is why Xbox Cloud Gaming and Amazon Luna are closer to comparison than NVIDIA GeForce NOW or Shadow’s Cloud services. Both Xbox and Amazon offer similar performance but have identical and differing games. Users will find around 373 newer and older titles from Xbox’s vast game library and acquisitions, whereas Amazon offers much less as they have fewer exclusives to Microsoft.
Finding information about the controller is more of a mystery. No one has ever taken one apart and presented it online, except one man who does not have the video accessible anymore. In digging through Reddit, I found the user and the breakdown of the components inside the Amazon Luna controller. Comparing the unit sent to me and the one I believed to have been broken (I was able to fix it as of the time of this writing), the two appear identical on the outside, but I do not know if I have the heart to take apart the older controller.
Tech Insights was the only site to provide any information, and it is pretty barebones compared to a full breakdown of parts and pieces. Below is what information is provided on their website as of 2021.
The design wins for the Amazon Luna Controller T28B69 are shared among several suppliers. NXP supplied the ARM microcontroller (MIMXRT685), GigaDevice provided the serial flash memory (GD25LB128D), and Maxim the stereo audio codec (MAX98090).
Outside of what has been mentioned, as you can see in the provided image, the controller comes with two AA batteries. I have read numerous resources that state that the company does not want users to use rechargeable batteries.
What is not provided in the information is that the controller connects via Bluetooth and a corresponding phone application to tie in your controller to Amazon Web Services and the Luna platform. But, if you do not have any controller available, Android and iOS Luna Controller apps provide an onscreen controller for users. There is a 3.5mm audio jack at the bottom that you can listen to the game without using the speakers of the device you are utilizing, whether you are at your TV or anywhere else available.
Amazon Luna — Gaming Services
Breaking it down, there are a total of 233 games available on the service if you subscribe to all channels and also have access to Amazon Prime (Prime members receive the ability to play four games free). The kicker is that you do not own any of these games unless you have a Ubisoft title on the list of available cloud games to play. You have access to them, which is similar to Xbox Cloud gaming in that aspect. Not only are there titles from the game channels that I mentioned, but there are also Sega, Capcom, and others available to consumers. You can even purchase downloaded content for those games. Again, you do not own the game, so purchasing DLC should be considered before jumping into it. Buying all three channels will run you around $26 a month. You are not required to pay for all three channels, but you will not have access to all the libraries if you do not.
The 233 games available are also slightly deceiving for users. One game, the Capcom Arcade Collection, offers 32 games from their vast library of arcade hits. The primary titled collection, and all of the games that come with it, are listed separately in the Amazon Luna library. This adds to 33, placing the total of listed games at 201 if you put all the games into the collection. Users will also find that out when they open the individual titles. Still, they will also be met with the ability only to play a particular title at a time unless opening the collection as a whole.
Currently, this February is seeing several titles leave the Amazon Luna service. A total of 53 titles will not be available in March. Those titles, along with the date they are going, are listed below:
- Bridge Constructor Portal (February 9)
- Buildings Have Feelings Too! (February 9)
- El Hijo: A Wild West Tale (February 9)
- El Shaddai: Acenstion of the Metatron (February 9)
- Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (February 9)
- Melbits World (February 9)
- Momonga Pinball Adventures (February 9)
- PictoQuest: The Curse Grids (February 9)
- Race the Sun (February 9)
- Skelittle: A Giant Party (February 9)
- Smoots Summer Games (February 9)
- Smoots World Cup Tennis (February 9)
- Snake Pass (February 9)
- Space Otter Charlie (February 9)
- Spark Lite (February 9)
- Spirit of the North (February 9)
- Spitlings (February 9)
- Summer Paws (February 9)
- Super Kickers League Ultimate (February 9)
- The Medium (February 9)
- Urban Trial Playground (February 9)
- Wandersong (February 9)
- No More Heroes (February 11)
- Yono and the Celestial Elephants (February 11)
- Joggernauts (February 27)
- Another World (February 28)
- Asteroids Deluxe (February 28)
- BloodRayne: Terminal Cut (February 28)
- BloodRayne: Terminal Cut 2 (February 28)
- Centipede (February 28)
- Crystal Castles (February 28)
- Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp (February 28)
- Flashback (February 28)
- Forsaken (February 28)
- Garou: Mark of the Wolves (February 28)
- Metal Slug 3 (February 28)
- Missile Command (February 28)
- Panzer Paladin (February 28)
- Pong (February 28)
- Retro Classic: Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja (February 28)
- Retro Classic: Gate of Doom (February 28)
- Retro Classic: Heavy Barrel (February 28)
- Retro Classic: Joe & Mac (February 28)
- Retro Classic: Joe & Mac Returns (February 28)
- Retro Classic: Super Burger Time (February 28)
- Retro Classic: Two Crude (February 28)
- Samurai Shodown V Special (February 28)
- ShadowMan Remastered (February 28)
- Space Ace (February 28)
- Super Breakout (February 28)
- Tempest (February 28)
- The Last Blade 2 (February 28)
- Twinsen’s Little Bit Adventure: Classic (February 28)
In March, the platform is expected to see five games (as of this writing) leave, with the promise that Amazon intends to replace the titles to keep users with a fresh supply of games to play on their platform. Compared to 2022, the library of available titles has decreased by almost fifty percent.
Amazon Luna’s application has gone through several changes as well. The service initially offered two channels — Luna+ and Ubisoft+. The company introduced a family channel devoted to kid-friendly titles and a retro channel for older games. It introduced Luna Couch, which connects gamers with another player who does not have to be subscribed to the service. The subscriber sends a code to the other player, and together they can play a (supported) multiplayer game (intended for co-op games only). Now, Amazon has consolidated its channels to only three — Jackbox Games, Ubisoft+, and Luna+. Lastly, the company provides four free games for Amazon Prime members, which means if you do not want to pay anything for the service, you have a few titles to choose from with unlimited time to play them, as long as they are currently available.
Another nice feature added to the descriptions for each game is Metacritic ratings, trailers, promo images, and a select group of streamers that are playing the game you are about to play. Once again, this can be unclear, but it depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking for a stream of the game and you click the thumbnail, you see the streamer’s game, get an idea of what the game is about, and even find a new streamer to follow. However, if you are on there to see who is streaming from their Amazon Luna, then you need to look at their tags to see if they are using the same platform. It is a minor nitpick, but I feel a necessary one to bring up if you want to learn more about streaming on the Luna platform, which I will cover in more detail in the next section.
Four games are available for online PvP play: Riptide GP: Renegade, Tetris Effect: Connected, Windjammers 2, and WRC Generations. Online co-op drops that down quite a bit unless you have one of the compatible Ubisoft titles available. Tetris Effect: Connected was the only one via the Luna+ library available to users. Local Co-op/PvP and Luna Couch open up many more options, as long as you have another home user with a device and controller or phone with the onscreen controller to use.
The Home screen and Library is a bit of a mess. I understand having the “Continue Playing” row at the very top and also the “Prime Members Play Now” row beneath it. From there, I would have moved the three channel options to the next row to make it more accessible to users. After that, it feels as confusing as Prime Video’s menu system. But that is also my opinion, and I am sure that others would disagree with the layout, feeling that it is perfectly accessible as it currently is laid out. I would also add the search option to the Library screen and remove having that separated.
Amazon Luna — Additional Features
Amazon has added some features that were not initially available upon launch. Users can play locally and online with other users who don’t share the Luna service with a code provided by the member, which is what the company calls Amazon Couch. The titles available are hand-selected by Amazon, so it does not cover the entire library of titles.
Users can connect to Discord and promote that they are playing a game using the Amazon Luna, including the amount of time played. Most other consoles and PC games offer this same feature, and this works the same. I connected the two services and played several titles; my username would appear with the game I was playing. Upon clicking my username from the list of users in Discord opens that information into its window and shows the Amazon Luna logo, the game, and how long I have been playing it for that session.
Lastly, Twitch users can stream directly from the Amazon Luna service, which is very user-friendly. You do not need to download extra software as it is all integrated into the UI. The software is set up with its chat window, and it keeps you notified on screen when your mic and webcam/camera are on, as well as the number of viewers watching at the time. The video ran smoothly, and I never experienced any significant lag that would have disrupted the service for myself or any viewers at the time.
Amazon Luna — Impressions and Experience
I want to get this out of the way now.
I love this controller. It is far superior to any Xbox, Playstation, or Nintendo Switch. This has nothing to do with the fact that I have had prior experience using it. When comparing the stock Xbox controller with the current Xbox Series X|S system with the Amazon Luna controller, I found I could make more precise movements with the joysticks on the latter than the former. Between the two controllers, I have placed over two months of gaming four hours a day, and I would still pick the Amazon controller above the standard Xbox Series X|S controller. The Amazon Luna controller feels slimmer and conforms to my hands better, whereas I thought the Xbox controller was larger and chunkier. The button layout was identical, and both worked the same if you used either for a PC game.
Now, that being said, there are some inconsistencies I hated about the Amazon Luna controller. When I first connected to the service and saw the notification pop up to tell me my controller was hooked after the message disappeared, I had to press the controller buttons a few times before the connection was active. It was the same feeling when you double-click on a mouse to open a document or folder. However, when playing, I rarely ever had a point where the controller never responded to my actions. The rare instance that I did was during gameplay of Devil May Cry 5. The game hit a moment with a lot of activity on the screen, which could have caused some lag in my gameplay, but I continued to hit buttons and pray to whoever wanted to listen at that point to survive, and I made it through just fine. This told me it was the service and not the controller that was the issue.
While on the subject of gaming on the cloud, how did it handle? The only comparison I have is to Microsoft’s cloud service, Xbox Cloud Gaming (or xCloud), and you can’t tell the difference, except when it came to image quality, and even then, it was inconsequential. Going back to Assassin’s Creed Origins, I could tell the difference between the two services because of the images produced. Xbox, being a console, has that softness to it that is less noticeable in PC games running at similar quality. On a PC, the images are crisper and darker but would still be near the average 60 fps quality we are all used to on consoles.
I was unable to use the service outside of my home, which was surprising. A consumer looks at a device and assumes that because it is connecting remotely, it has internet access and would allow gamers to play anywhere. However, that is not the case, as the system requires a 5 GHz wireless connection to your home’s wireless. So, I can move freely around my house but stray too far, and I have no connection to the internet.
Conclusion — Amazon Luna: A Great Alternative For Cloud Gaming?
With Google Stadia dead in the water, and consoles or PCs dominating the marketplace, cloud gaming is still early in its evolution. I remember reading a user mention that several years from now, games will be so graphically heavy that standard home or gaming computer systems or home consoles will be able to handle the load, thus opening more reasons that cloud gaming would become a viable resource. I enjoyed the time I had with the Amazon Luna service. The games were fun; I could pause, grab my phone, pull up the app, and continue where I left off was remarkable. I rarely experienced a terrible lag from what I first experienced when they started the service a few years ago. As far as the hardware goes, the controller is durable and connected beautifully to my system, whether through its Cloud Direct service or Bluetooth to my PC.
The games disappearing with the promise that more games are coming does show concern, and it seems to be felt by the Amazon Luna community that I have found through Reddit and Discord. The current library is terrific, but knowing I won’t have access to the two Bloodrayne titles and the Shadowman Remastered at the end of the month does bum me out.
I think Amazon could have a future, but the content is holding it back. The hardware is not. As another cloud gaming service available for gamers, if you are looking for an alternative to consoles to stream over the cloud, I think it is worth giving it a try. If you compare it to GeForce NOW or Shadow Play, this is no way this can compete.
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