Hello! It's not hard for anyone to tell that I'm a huge fan of Balloon Fight. In fact, it has become so much part of my thinking that I have delved deep into all the sources I have to solve all the mysteries of Balloon Fight. It's quite a large task, although I will attempt to accomplish it and post my findings through my blog. For today, I have decided to begin with solving the mystery of the Vs. Balloon Fight prototype's "Rocket".
In case you don't spend your time digging through mountains of arcade flyers in search of prerelease screenshots, the "Rocket" I am referring to is a strange, rocket-esque blue object that appears in a grand total of two unique screenshots of Vs. Balloon Fight. These screenshots have been taken sometime during development, as there are numerous differences from their contents to that of the game that we got. With that said, let's delve deep into the mystery that is the "Rocket".
What was it?
Unfortunately, static screenshots don't give us much insight into what this object could have done. As you can see in the image, it only ever seems to face left or right, possibly meaning that it could only fly in those two directions. It should also be noted that in both screenshots, the "Rocket" is at almost the same altitude, except possibly a little lower in the first screenshot where it faces to the right. It also seems to fly somewhat near the player's altitude, although the player is slightly higher in both cases. It seems that it might have damaged the player, as the screenshot where it is much closer and pointed toward the player seems to show the player trying to fly out it's way. It might be related to the Arrow which does appear in the final game, which comes on-screen when a player stays on one level for too long to take out both of their Balloons at once. Also, there's a possibility that it was meant to be defeated much like a Balloon Bird, judging by the strange spot that appears on the top. Speaking of which, the strange spot might be a Balloon or the head of a Balloon Bird, although the available pictures are somewhat hard to see. It also might have flashed or changed color, as the right-facing rocket seems to have a red spot on top while the left-facing one has a white or possibly blue or green spot on top. Also, there appears to be three of what seem to be projectiles on the side of the "Rocket". It might have shot something at one point, although this is seems very unlikely.
Where was it?
The screenshots it appears in show different levels, so it would likely be recurring. In regards to where its graphics were stored, we don't know for certain, as its associated graphics seem to have been either overwritten or deleted. However, due a cloud that appears in the same screenshots, we know that the NES version's graphics were copied from a prototype from around the time this "Rocket" existed. No signs of the "Rocket" in this either, however. There are a lot of crossed out tiles, though, so it could be that they existed upon copying but were crossed out later on. There are 24 total crossed out tiles, and the "Rocket" seems to be about 2x4 (8) or 2x3 (6) tiles large. In Vs. Balloon Fight, Right after the "BONUS STAGE" text tiles there are exactly 16 blank tiles. These may have been used at one point for the rocket, but the fact that they are blank and not crossed out likely means they were just left over and not used.
What remains of it?
Nothing. There are no remnants of the "Rocket" in either version of the game, as far as I am aware. If anyone would like to look in the game's code for any sort of sprite remnant or unused code, and then verify if it could be related to the "Rocket", I'd be happy to hear about it. I'd also appreciate someone to confirm if there are no remnants, as I really wasn't able to dig too deeply into the technical parts. Best case scenario, if anyone who worked on the game could say anything about it, that would be amazing, but there are no known interviews or other related documents that I could find relating to Vs. Balloon Fight's development.
We just might never know what this is, although it seems likely that it would have been some sort of enemy or obstacle that was scrapped some time around the time Balloon Fight on the NES was started.