The goal of the game is to guide Goemon safely through all 13 stages of the district that he currently occupies. Upon completing all 13 stages, you are treated to a brief ending before being sent back to the game in a new district. The stages of each district are identical, but the enemies get progressively faster and stronger. There are a total of 8 districts. Completing the 8th district earns you the best ending in the game. After that, you will begin again back at the first district.
The goal of every stage is the same: collect three passes and locate the exit gates that lead to the next stage. Everything else that occurs throughout the stage will either help you or hinder you along the way. People and other enemies stalk you outdoors, while you hunt for the secret entrances to underground passageways. Merchants are eager to take your money in exchange for goods, and one hut will provide an entrance to a dungeon that you can roam inside of and look for one of the passes. Two more passes will be contained in underground passageways, but if you're having trouble finding them, you can purchase a candle which will reveal the hidden entrances for a period of time. If you're truly desperate, you can purchase a pass from a shopkeep at very high prices.
There are four different environments that Goemon must investigate in his efforts to help the poor. While you're not necessarily required to explore all of them, it will certainly help you if you do.
This is where a majority of the action will take place. As Goemon passes through each district, the scene will shift from a city, to a forest, to a sandy beach or mountain cliff and beyond. This is the only environment where Goemon can actually be attacked and killed. Keep his defenses high and his offensive power steady. Items and money can be collected by jumping over crates and pots, while hidden underground entrances must be leaped over in order to make them appear. While a few stages consist of one long stretch of action, many stages are actually composed of several strips of land that are connected by pathways along the top and bottom of the path.
Goemon has little to fear and much to gain by exploring the underground passageways. Not only can they provide him with rare items like one of the three stage passes, or a life increasing scroll, they can typically serve as a shortcut between to distant overground locations in a stage. Sometimes an underground passage may be the only way to access certain portions of a stage. Finding the location of hidden entrances can be challenging, and made easier by purchasing a candle, but a candle will only last for so long.
Here's a hint to help you find the entrances: with the exception of just a few hidden entrances, all entrances can be found on the same vertical height of the screen throughout the entire stage. For example, if you find one location that is approximately two rows from the bottom of the screen, than many of the underground entrances can be found two rows from the bottom of the screen if not all of them.
Goemon can venture inside many different buildings to escape the activity of the outdoors for any period of time. There are a variety of shop types and residences, all of which are described in detail below. Be aware that the purpose of the and buttons change when you're indoors. Make sure you know what you're pressing before you accidentally purchase something that you didn't need.
One particular building in every stage will grant you access to the stage dungeon for an increasing price. You must pay every time you wish to enter the dungeon, even if you've already been in it before. You are presented with a first person perspective when you are inside of a dungeon. You are always safe and can never be attacked. Inside dungeons, you can find the following items: Coffers worth 100 Koban, one stage Pass, a map to the dungeon floor plan, and possibly an extra life. The map will only show the location of Coffers and Passes. You can press to see the map if you have collected it. There are other ways to view the map if you have the right item.
The most common building that you will encounter is an item shop. Item shops come in two particular varieties: shops that sell equipment, and shops that sell food. When you're inside, use to cycle through your purchasing options, and press to purchase something. If you would like to purchase more than one item, you must leave and return. Note that an item's asking price will typically double after you purchase one the first time. After all, that's the law of supply and demand.
One building in every stage will provide you with the opportunity to enter the stage dungeon (referred to in this translation as a cave). There is a fee associated with entering the dungeon, which you must pay before you are granted entrance.
A man with a pair of dice will ask you if you wish to play a game with him. If you accept, he will ask you if you prefer odd or even. After you make your selection, he will roll the dice. If the resulting sum matches your guess of odd or even, your money will be doubled. However, if you are wrong, your money will be cut in half. Note that the most money you can ever hold at one time is 9999, so the farther you are over 5000 Koban, the less worthwhile gambling will become.
If you are in danger of dying and can find a hotel, you can spend the night there to restore your missing health. Of course, you must first pay the rental fee. Unlike other health restoring items like food, the price of a hotel never changes.
If you're so desperate for cash, you can always sell off a few of the items that you have in your possession, but you'll be forced to sell them at a hefty discount. With money being relatively easy to come by (jumping over pots and knocking out enemies), it's hard to come up with a good reason to sell your hard earned equipment.
Some of the huts that you come across simply contain villagers. They will always have something to say. Whether its valuable information, or just nonsense depends on who you talk to. One thing is for certain; the villagers certainly like Konami games.