Donkey Kong Land 2 is a 2D side-scrolling platform game, borrowing many of the mechanics established in Donkey Kong Country. However, because of hardware limitations of the portable console, several gameplay mechanics were changed to better suit the Game Boy. Similar to its console iteration, the A button is used to jump and swim and the B button is used to roll and grab barrels. The Select Button allows the player to switch control between Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong. However, only one Kong can be displayed on the screen at a time, while the second one teleports out when the selected or when one Kong is hit by an enemy. Because of the Game Boy's smaller screen, the HUD, which is typically on-screen at all times, is shown only when an item is collected or a Kong takes a hit to reduce clutter onscreen.
Many of the gameplay mechanics are retained from Donkey Kong Country, such as KONG letters, animal buddies, bonus rooms, and collecting bananas to gain extra lives. There are four worlds in Donkey Kong Land, each containing seven levels, excluding the first world, which has a total of nine levels. Differing from their SNES counterparts, levels in Donkey Kong Land have only one or two bonus levels within stages. The worlds, and the levels within them, are all unique to Donkey Kong Land, but follow similar level archetypes presented in the original Donkey Kong Country. Due to the Game Boy's hardware limitations, the names of the levels can only be found in the instruction booklet.