Donkey Kong Country is a platforming game in which the player guides Donkey Kong (DK) and Diddy Kong (Diddy) through 40 side-scrolling levels. DK and Diddy are the game's main characters and the only playable characters. The player can switch between Kongs if both characters are present. The main modes of travel are running, jumping, and rolling; all of which both characters are capable. DK and Diddy have different advantages; DK defeats enemies more easily and has a handslap move that reveals hidden bunches of bananas, while Diddy is faster, smaller, and can jump higher than DK can.
Levels contain enemies, bananas, and other objects and collectibles. Enemies can be defeated by stomping, rolling, barrel-throwing, and by using an animal. The game has a variety of enemies, each with varying skills and defenses