The game follows Diego's journey from a young carefree panther cub to the battle with his uncle Tai Lung as an adult tiger. The player can control young Bagheera or adult Diego in the main levels and either Sid or Po in the bonus levels.
Cub Diego/Bagheera can roar, jump on enemies and roll. All 3 are used to combat enemies and have different effects. Rolling can also be used to access hidden areas and dodge attacks.
Adult Diego is stronger, can slash and maul, and he can throw instead of defeating his enemies by jumping on them. He also has a more formidable roar, but can no longer roll.
Sid and Po:
During the course of the game, there are two bonus stages. In the first bonus stage, players control Po, eating bugs dropped by Sid without letting any good ones touch the floor. In the second bonus stage, players control Sid, searching the area for bugs within a time limit. Both will end prematurely if they come into contact with a bad bug (a spider).