Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario standing on a street in a New York style world.Nintendo

It's easy to forget just how long it's been since players last busted blocks and stomped Goombas in a Mario game made up of large, open levels. Ever since Super Mario Sunshine debuted 15 years ago Nintendo has favoured smaller stages with concentrated designs, but now it's ready to go back.

Super Mario Odyssey sees a return to an older formula, but this doesn't mean Nintendo is playing things safe. Mario's movement is familiar, as it should be, but how players interact with each new world has undergone a significant change.

Odyssey shares a similar ethos to Switch launch title Breath of the Wild, which radically shook up the Legend of Zelda formula.

Mario's latest adventure doesn't appear to do that exactly, but both games are enthusiastic about the freedom they offer players.

Like the destinations Mario has visited in Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, each world - called a Kingdom in Odyssey - has a set amount of items to collect.

Moons replace the Stars and Shines of old, littering each setting at the end of platforming sections, as rewards for completing challenges and hidden from plain sight.

Before, players would have to hunt them down one by one, with each find ending that particular stretch of play. In Odyssey, players are free to root out as many Moons as they want in a single session.

In New Donk City, the halfway iconic metropolis kingdom featuring human beings, players are immediately pointed in the direction of the city's mayor, Pauline (the same Pauline from the original Donkey Kong no less), who tasks Mario with rounding up the musicians that form her band.

Each musician rewards Mario with a Moon, sending him back to the party where the band takes shape. Other moons, found in areas of construction, or as prizes for slot-style games, stop play only to celebrate their discovery before letting players scurry off on their next adventure.

The sense of flow this creates is refreshing, but interaction with the world extends further than the Moons you collect. There are coins of course, and purple collectables that are only used as currency in the Kingdoms they're found in, but there are many other ways to interact with environments like never before.

Super Mario Odyssey Hat Horror
Super Mario Odyssey New Donk City
Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey

The big selling point of Odyssey is Cappy, the sentient hat Mario wears which allows the plumber to assume control of whoever or whatever it is thrown at. Existential lunacy aside (Odyssey delightfully revels in its preposterousness), it's a mechanic that creates a connection between Mario and each Kingdom beyond simply jumping all over it.

He might take over a Bullet Bill to clear objects, an electrical cable that allows him to move quickly, or a human having trouble controlling a remote control car. The loose definitions of what can and can't be possessed encourage experimentation, and therein lies another joy.

The second Kingdom we explored was Tostarena, a world with Mexican and South American-inspired designs. It's primarily a sandy desert, but there are also large juts of ice trapping characters, items and even a taxi from New Donk City.

Melting the ice is, of course, a job for Mario, and it's an example of how Kingdoms will change as the player completes certain tasks. It's another layer of interaction that makes Odyssey's levels feel richer than what has come before.

Super Mario Odyssey
Some kingdoms include classic 2D portions built into the levels themselves.Nintendo

Tostarena also shows off how Nintendo is including classic 2D gameplay in Odyssey. Mario is able to transport into certain sections of wall through pipes, similar to the wall-inhabiting mechanic of 3DS Zelda adventure A Link Between Worlds.

A simple section leads to trickier prospect, as in two dimensions we platform up and around a tower, all the way to the Moon at its top. It's just one of the many great ideas crammed into just a small slice of what Odyssey will have to offer.

Each Kingdom hides dozens of Moons (Nintendo isn't sharing exact numbers) and with them dozens of reasons to explore each of Odyssey's stark locations in depth. But there's more, as players will also set their own challenges.

From the top of one of New Donk City's skyscrapers it's possible to perform a death-defying leap into a swimming pool far below. Videos have been shared of this, and it shows the potential Odyssey has to encourage players to share their own stories and feats.

From just these two Kingdoms it's clear that there's a huge amount to discover in each setting Odyssey has to offer - of which four others have so far been revealed.

For 15 years Mario games have been about mastery of a series of set challenges and that challenge still exists in Odyssey, but now players have a freedom to root it out for themselves, all while exploring more of the absurdist vistas from Nintendo's limitless imagination.