Within each level, the barrel stage is always the first one. Starting on Level 4, it also appears between the Conveyor Belt Stage and Elevator Stage, and on level 5, between the Elevator Stage and Rivet Stage.
- Mario starts in the lower left corner and must climb all the way to the top. Along the way, Donkey Kong will be rolling barrels down the girders which Mario must avoid or jump over.
- Donkey Kong will start every barrel stage by hurling a barrel directly down to the bottom level which will enter the oil canister and start a fire, releasing the first fireball. The fireball will slowly begin to climb up the ladders in pursuit of Mario. Every time a blue barrel reaches the oil can, a fireball will come out of it, up to a maximum of 5 fireballs on the screen at any time.
- Along the way, there are two hammers available for Mario to use. While useful, they slow Mario down by preventing him from climbing higher. The first hammer should generally be left alone except in case of emergencies. The second hammer should be used often in early levels when there is plenty of bonus time available, and sparingly at higher levels if the path to the far right ladder is too crowded and you need a breather before climbing to the highest girder.
- Mario can only climb all the way up the unbroken ladders. However, barrels and beams can drop down any ladder, broken or whole, and the fireballs can climb either kind. While the broken ladders won't help Mario progress, they can be climbed partially as a means to escape danger, but this is generally slower and more dangerous than simply jumping over barrels. Only use this method if there are more barrels approaching than can be cleared with a single jump.
- When jumping straight up, you can extend the range the game checks for barrels if you hold the joystick left or right while in midair. In other words, the game is more likely to award you points while jumping if you're holding the joystick left or right, even if you're jumping straight up. Sometimes the game will even award you points for barrels or other enemies that you didn't actually jump over!
- Advanced strategy: Mario can sometimes force barrels to roll down ladders. In the early stages, this is fairly difficult, because the barrels are not responsive (though they get more responsive as the timer ticks down). Starting at level 4, Mario will have maximum control over the barrels. To force a barrel to roll down a ladder, simply move the joystick in the direction of that ladder. This works on all barrels that are at least one level above Mario. (Barrels on the same level as Mario never roll down ladders.) The barrel will respond to the "command" to come down as much as 75% of the time once Mario has maximum control over them. Note that the barrels respond to the joystick's position, not the direction Mario is actually moving in, so you can make them roll down ladders while Mario is himself on a ladder, and you can make a barrel roll down a ladder to the left while Mario is jumping to the right.
Conveyor Belt Stage
This stage only begins to appear on Level 3. It appears before the elevator stage on its first appearance.
- This stage is broken up in to five distinct layers. Mario begins at the bottom where he must climb one of the ladders to the first conveyor belt. This conveyor belt extends from one end of the screen to the other, and cement pies will appear along it intermittently. The pies can be jumped over or smashed with a hammer.
- The conveyor belt will either move to the left or the right, and Mario will be carried along with it, affecting his speed depending on whether he runs with it or against it. This belt will switch directions whenever Donkey Kong is all the way to the left on his belt, so be alert.
- From there Mario can climb up to the third layer where there are two bonus prizes and a hammer. The only threat to Mario on this layer are the fireballs, which increase in number as time goes by. From the center, choose the direction that looks safest and climb up to the second conveyor belt layer.
- These belts always move in the direction of the oil can. Since this is the layer from which the fireballs spawn – and you have to worry about cement pies – it is the most dangerous level and should be left as soon as possible. This layer will never change direction.
- Your last objective in this stage is to climb up the retractable ladder when it is fully extended to Donkey Kong's belt. You only have to reach the belt; you do not have to directly rescue Pauline to advance.
- A tip: fireballs always jump out of the oil can in Mario's direction. That is, if Mario is to the left of the oil can, they will jump out to the left. At the start of the level, several fireballs will spawn. Wait for them all to come out before crossing over to the right side of the screen, and there's a good chance that the right side will be safe. The number of fireballs that will spawn at the start of the level is the same as the level number, up to a maximum of five. That is, on Level 3, three fireballs will spawn; on Level 4, four fireballs will spawn, etc.
This stage appears on Level 2, before the Rivet stage.
- This stage features two elevators that Mario must make use of in order to reach the ladder to the ramp on which Pauline is perched. The left elevator goes up while the right elevator goes down.
- The fireball between the elevator presents the first challenge. If Mario is below it (even by a single pixel), it has a chance to climb down the ladder. If Mario and the fireball are both on the top level, it will never descend the ladder. Use this to your advantage when you take the first elevator up.
- When using the second elevator, if it is slow enough, you can take a shortcut from the high ledge on the left to the high ledge on the right. Otherwise, you must ride the elevator down to the bottom and jump from island to island in order to reach Pauline. Along the way, Mario must time his jumps so as to avoid the springs that fall from above.
- When Mario reaches the ledge on which Donkey Kong stands, he must time his attempt to climb the ladder and rescue Pauline. The safest strategy is to stand directly over the right elevator, let the springs bounce over Mario, and make a run for the ladder as soon as a spring clears his head.
- However, starting at Level 4, the springs come at a much faster rate, and a more detailed strategy is required. It also requires perfect positioning and timing. First, there are two main kinds of springs to worry about. A "short" spring is a spring whose first bounce is to the left of DK's foot. A "long" spring is a spring that bounces off the top of the left elevator (in between Donkey Kong's legs) on its first bounce. Many springs will land somewhere in between ("medium" springs), but they're nothing to worry about until the next step. When you first get to the top, wait for a short spring. When the short spring makes contact on its final bounce, immediately – before it jumps back into the air – start running to the left. Stop on top of the right elevator (the yellow spot), preferably standing halfway off of its right edge. Now, wait for a long spring.
- When the long spring lands its first bounce, get ready. (If you don't feel ready, don't go; wait for another one.) After the long spring's second bounce, when it sails over your head, make a dash for the ladder. Now for the hard part: the next spring should preferably be a short spring; though you can still make it if it's a medium spring, it won't give you the perfect amount of time to get up the ladder. If it's a long spring, you'll have to abort and run back to the safe spot. (If you started your dash too close to the ladder, you'll probably be too high up the ladder and get hit.) You cannot abort if it's a short spring, or you might get hit, so you can't necessarily err on the side of caution. Now, often the second spring will be neither a perfect long spring or a perfect short spring – it will land somewhere between DK's left foot and the elevator – and you'll have to use your judgment. However, if the spring falls completely to the left of the elevator, it should be safe. The attached video should help immensely with this stage.
- The first bonus prize, Pauline's umbrella, is an easy grab, but the other bonus prizes, Pauline's purse and hat, are generally not worth the effort.
This is the climactic stage of each level.
- Donkey Kong has taken Pauline to the highest point at the construction site and has nowhere else to go. Mario takes advantage of the situation by removing the yellow plugs (rivets) that hold each level together. To do that, Mario must run or leap over the yellow plugs and they will immediately disappear, leaving a gap behind. The Firefoxes which occupy this stage cannot cross those gaps, but Mario must leap over them in order to cross them safely.
- The Firefoxes always spawn on the opposite side of the screen from where Mario is standing. The center of the screen is counted as the left side, so Firefoxes will spawn on the right side while Mario is climbing a ladder in the middle.
- Like other fireballs, Firefoxes will never go down a ladder unless Mario is at a lower elevation than the Firefox. (The reverse is not true: they can still go up ladders even if Mario is lower than the Firefox.)
- There are two hammers on this stage for Mario's convenience, and they can be used to cut down on Firefox traffic. The hammer below Donkey Kong is an easy nab, but the hammer on the level below that can be obtained in two ways. One way is to move Mario's feet over the edge of the level and jump straight up, however it may be easier for Mario to jump straight off the ramp to the left. Mario will bounce off an invisible barrier and return safely to the level with hammer in hand. Be aware that you cannot jump while holding a hammer, so do not attempt to cross a gap left behind by a pulled plug, or Mario will lose a life. Also, be aware that smashed Firefoxes will eventually respawn, following the spawning rules previously defined.
- The safest strategy is to clear the left side, then clear the right. While clearing the left half, the rivet on the second platform from the bottom (the one with the hammer) should usually be taken last. That way you can grab the hammer and carry it over to the right half of the screen (taking the last rivet on the left in the process) and clear out Firefoxes on the right half. As long as you stay on the right half of the screen, new Firefoxes will spawn on the left, where they will be trapped, because you've removed all the rivets there.
- The prizes provide a nice bonus, but Mario should not risk his life to get them, as there will be plenty more available should he survive. Also keep in mind that if you're some distance away from a bonus item, you may lose more points (from the bonus timer) going to get it than you'll receive for picking it up.
- Once Mario pulls all eight plugs, Donkey Kong will fall to his doom leaving Pauline alone for Mario to rescue her. After a brief romantic interlude, Mario returns to the ramp stage to repeat it all at a higher level and more frantic pace.
- If trying to obtain a high score, head to the pole right of Donkey Kong. From that location, jump repeatedly while holding the stick to the right (jump without holding the stick, then hold it while in midair). If done properly, you will jump straight up while receiving 100 points per jump. Starting at around level 4, this won't get you terribly many points, because the timer will tick down 100 points for every 100 points you make by jumping. This is a profitable move earlier in the game, though.
The kill screen is the name given to the first ramp stage on Level 22. Even though the bonus counter starts at 4,000 and counts down at the normal rate, the amount of time available is extremely low, preventing you from proceeding past the second girder.
The best tactic on this stage is to use the short time to maximize your score by jumping over barrels or by using the hammer. You also should have spent all your extra lives on the last barrel stage of level 21, because you can get a lot of points there, but there are hardly any points to be earned on the kill screen.
If you've made it this far: Well done! You should know what to do from here. Your skills are beyond the scope of this guide.