Donkey Kong Land is the first Game Boy game in the Donkey Kong franchise to use the Donkey Kong Country formula. Like the first DKC, players control Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong as while travelling through jungles, caves, construction sites, and more. Most of the same enemies from DKC are in this spin-off, even though there are different levels and different bosses.
Two animal companions feature in the game: Rambi and Expresso. Due to the Game Boy's limitations, only one character is shown on the character screen, instead of two; players can switch characters by pressing the select button. Its save feature is also different from Donkey Kong Country - in order to be able to save, players must have collected all four KONG letters or beaten the boss in the previous level.