The player, as Donald, ventures through a variety of side-scrolling levels. Generally, each level is divided into an overland part and a dungeon, such as the Maharajah's palace or the temple in which the Great Duck Treasure resides. Although the player may choose any order to play the overland sections, various obstacles prevent the player from entering the dungeons outside of a specific order. In addition to this, some levels provide the player with vital clues which solve puzzles needed to progress in later sections. Once Donald has completed the overland section of an area, he may leave by calling his nephews' biplane, and will return to the dungeon entrance of that area if the player chooses to return.
Donald is armed with a special gun that can shoot plungers, popcorn or bubble gum. Donald has unlimited plungers which can temporarily stun enemies (though bosses can still be damaged with plungers), and can collect popcorn and gum along the way or get the latter from Gyro Gearloose. Later in the game, the plunger is upgraded to act as a temporary platform to climb walls with and, when stuck to a passing bird, allows Donald to traverse longer distances. In Duckburg, India and Egypt, Donald can also pick up chili peppers which increase his temper, eventually temporarily allowing him to become invincible, increase his speed and knock out enemies in his path.