With Switch, Nintendo wants a world of players to play wherever and whenever they want, so it is poetic, perhaps by design, that the two biggest games of the system's inaugural year are about the joy of exploration and adventure.

Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild both set players loose in large worlds filled with challenges and curiosities to be discovered, and encourage experimentation with bountiful rewards.

They are very different games of course, but share a new-found love for scope, and delight in unbridled escapism.

Nintendo's Odyssey returns the iconic plumber to an open-world format last seen in 2002's Super Mario Sunshine, and the benefit of all that has changed in game development during the 15 intervening years can be felt.

Perhaps the most notable change, other than the obvious visual upgrade, is Nintendo's willingness to get weird.

Real weird.

In Odyssey, Mario has a companion called Cappy: a sentient hat who can transform into a variety of headgear, including Mario's iconic red cap. He can be thrown at characters, enemies and objects throughout the game to allow Mario to essentially possess them.

The first time this happens, we see Mario warp into the being he is possessing (a frog), falling through a trippy infinity before suddenly, with a jolt, assuming control - indicated by Cappy and a thick comedy moustache.

From its very beginnings, the Mario series has been about movement. Mario 64 was about movement through 3D environments, in Sunshine F.L.U.D.D added a new element, in Galaxy fluctuating gravity and small planetoids put a twist on the series. Odyssey is about the variety of movement offered by the new ability Cappy introduces.

Frogs can leap incredibly high, Goombas stack on top of each other and walk across ice without slipping, a T-Rex found early on is a lumbering destructive force capable of stomping out Chain Chomps with ease. There are many, many more.

This 'CAPture' ability plays into all aspects of Odyssey, but is underpinned by Mario's own athleticism. As you will expect from Nintendo, his movement is perfectly honed with all the triple jumps, backflips and forward rolls you will anticipate. In a way Cappy is almost superfluous; it would be a pleasure to explore Odyssey even without him.

Super Mario Odyssey
The Odyssey, Mario and Cappy's ship Nintendo

With Princess Peach predictably kidnapped by Bowser, who plans on marrying her against her wishes, Mario chases the king koopa and his wedding planners - the Broodals - across numerous varied kingdoms.

Mario and Cappy's top hat-shaped ship The Odyssey flies the pair from vast deserts to dark forests, gorgeous coastlines, the metropolis of New Donk City and much more. Each world is as distinct as it is bursting with collectables.

Chief among these are the moons needed to fuel the Odyssey. Players must find a certain amount from each world before they can move on, but these goals are easy enough to hit, which keeps the pace brisk.

These replace the stars from 64 and the shines from Sunshine, but in a far greater volume. To keep things flowing, finding a moon won't - with a handful of exceptions - return players to the start of a level. The action continues instead, as players root out their next one.

As is always the case with Mario's adventures, reaching the end of the story takes a decent amount of time but is not the bulk of the game. After rescuing Peach the game continues, and most players who follow its natural progression will have hundreds - and I do mean HUNDREDS - of moons left to find.

They are found in all manner of ways. Defeating bosses will offer up a cluster of them, others are hidden in hard-to-reach places, at the end of secret rooms or are rewards for experimenting with curious quirks of the environment, much like Breath of the Wild's Koroks.

After Bowser has been bested there are 10 moons available to buy in each kingdom's shop. It is a bit of a cheap ploy, but even if those moons were not in the game there would still be hundreds of them dotted around.

It is at these shops that players can spend the game's two forms of in-game currency: the classic Mario coins that can be spent anywhere and special purple coins specific to each kingdom. These all unlock special outfits and decorations for your ship.

Outfits are a mix of references to Mario's history (there is one for Dr Mario, another for the Red and Yellow outfit from Mario Maker) and those that befit each kingdom (a pinstripe suit for New Donk City, a poncho and sombrero for the desert realm etc).

Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey

There are dozens of them, they can be mixed and matched, but it is a shame they are purely aesthetic and carry no unique gameplay abilities. Asking Nintendo to balance a game with 30-plus costumes-worth of gameplay tweaks is perhaps too much on top of everything Mario can also do with Cappy (okay, it definitely is) so this is only a minor point.

The best use of these costumes is in the gorgeous photo mode, which like the best equivalent modes in games like Uncharted and Horizon: Zero Dawn, is all too easy to grow addicted to.

Finding great pictures to take and spending an age framing each shot is a testament to the richness of the worlds Nintendo has created, not just in terms of the scenery but the cast of characters inhabiting them.

The wonder of Odyssey is in the small details this photo mode can reveal. It is in Mario's expression as he crowd surfs, the shopkeepers wearing stacks of hats, in how the soundtrack switches to 8-bit variations when players warp into a 2D sequence, and the sight of a T-Rex wearing a tiny hat.

It is also in too many other little moments I wouldn't dream of describing here. More than any other mainline Mario title, Odyssey is a celebration of everything that led to and informed this game. Mario's entire history is in there, from sly references to entire joyous sequences that you will play over and over again.

Our verdict
Super Mario Odyssey

Nintendo proves once again why it is the very best at what it does, with the Super Mario game players have waited 15 years for. Rooted in an wonderfully absurd design idea, Odyssey is a glorious and jubilant adventure for all that, like its plump hero, revels in the freedom to explore, experiment and play.