The controls for this game are dependent upon the context in which you are using them. Player 1 controls Goemon, while Player 2 controls Ebisumaru. The descriptions below specify Goemon, but they are equally applicable to Ebisumaru.
- : Use the direction pad to control Goemon. Pressing a direction will cause Goemon to run in that direction. Goemon can run in the four cardinal directions, as well as in each diagonal.
- : Press the A button to make Goemon jump. Use it in conjunction with the control pad to direct which way Goemon jumps.
- : Press the B button to attack. For more information about each character's attacks, see below.
- : Pauses the action mid-game.
- : Unused.
- : Moves Goemon one step forward in which ever direction he happens to be facing.
- / : Rotates Goemon ninety degrees to the right or to the left.
- : Makes Goemon perform an about-face, rotating him 180° from his current direction.
- : Press the A button to view the map, if Goemon currently possesses one for the particular dungeon he is in.
- : If you possess the Elephant doll, you can use it up to instantly exit a dungeon.
- : Though only useful to reach the entrance of the dungeons, you can use the direction pad to run around in a shop.
- : Press the A button to purchase the selected item in a shop, or to select the highlighted response in a dialog.
- : Press the B button to cycle through the shop items, or dialog choices.
This is Goemon, the hero of feudal Japan. As the name suggests, his character was loosely based on Ishikawa Goemon, the noble thief of Japanese folklore. Goemon is very much like a Robin Hood figure of Japan; he primarily steals from the rich in order to give back to the poor and oppressed. And that is precisely what you need to help Goemon do. Goemon is a very good hearted person with a strong sense of justice. Goemon must collect three passes in every stage except the first, in order to advance to the next stage. He must do so within a set time limit, or he will be unable to help the poor. Upon escaping from each stage, he delights the nearby villagers by waking them at night, dispensing much of the money he has collected from the corrupt noblemen (this money does not come out of the fund that you are maintaining for Goemon).
This time around, Goemon isn't alone in his fight. A second player can play along too by taking control of Ebisumaru. This character based on a legendary figure known as Nezumi Kozō, nicknamed Jirokichi, a Japanese thief who lived in Edo during the Edo period who was also believed to have been a Robin Hood-like figure. Ebisumaru plays almost identically to Goemon, except when it comes to his weapons.
Goemon and Ebisumaru are capable of donning a lot of equipment that can protect them from several different kinds of attacks, but this equipment can wear down and break over time and must be replaced. They can only take so many hits before dying, but if they finds a package, they can extend their health bars from 8 to 12. Goemon and Ebisumaru only have so many chances to complete their mission before they runs out of tries, but they can collect extra chances by buying them in stores, or finding hidden items.
Both Goemon and Ebisumaru are capable of using a few different weapons, but they can only swing one of their possessions like a club until they obtain power-ups. By jumping over gourds and revealing cats, they can change their weapon every time they catch a cat (see Items for more information.) Catching cats allows them to switch back and forth between two projectile weapons, but they will return to their initial club weapon if they get hit and take damage from an enemy.