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1. Better Designs
A major part of these games’ character appeal comes from character design, and this is an area where Street Fighter really blows Mortal Kombat out of the water.
From the very beginning, Mortal Kombat has had bland, muted colors, and boring designs. These characters are basically just simple archetypes like “ninja.” And even cool designs like Raiden were really just ripping off earlier things (in this case, the legend of Raijin).
But starting with Street Fighter II, we got vastly different characters in memorable outfits and a rainbow array of colors. Just compare M. Bison’s sweet outfit with Shang Tsung’s “generic old man” appearance in the first game to see the difference!
2. Memorable Characters
In addition to better designs, Street Fighter had a larger cast of memorable characters than Mortal Kombat. It’s one of the reasons that even people who have never played a video game have characters like Ryu and Chun-Li burned into their brains.
Mortal Kombat started as an homage to action movies, but a side effect of that is that everyone was like the dollar store version of something better. Liu Kang is the poor man’s Bruce Lee, Jonny Cage is the poor man’s Van Damme, and so on.
Eventually, Mortal Kombat added more memorable characters to the franchise. But they’ve never been able to fully catch up to Street Fighter.
3. Smoother Animation
Comparing the graphics between the franchises is really like comparing apples and oranges. But one thing we can definitively say is that Street Fighter games feature smoother animation than Mortal Kombat games.
It took Mortal Kombat years to shake off the legacy of those early animations which were as stiff and annoying as the controls. Compared to this, Street Fighter II introduced fluid animation that keeps your eyes positively glued to the screen.
And SF’s animation only got better over time. In fact, the often-overlooked Street Fighter III’s animation blows the entire Mortal Kombat franchise away on its own.
4. Intuitive Special Moves
Both franchises have memorable special moves for each different character. But Street Fighter’s special moves have always felt more intuitive.
Just think about Ryu’s special moves. The controller motions to throw a fireball or pull off a dragon punch are so intuitive that even button mashers can easily discover them.
Most of Mortal Kombat’s special moves and all of the famous fatalities are strange to learn and difficult to master. As Heather Anne Campbell noted on the How Did This Get Played podcast, "it feels more like you are programming a move or fatality to happen than just organically fighting."
5. Balanced Gameplay
Another reason that Street Fighter is friendly to casuals and button-mashers is a simple one. These games are remarkably well-balanced starting with Street Fighter II (as compared to the original game, where special moves would almost instantly end any fight).
Mortal Kombat usually has one or more characters that are seriously OP, which defeats the whole purpose of having a fighting game. And the recent mania for adding new characters via DLC makes it even harder for devs to keep things balanced.
6. Fewer Dumb Character Gimmicks
This is low-hanging fruit, but here it is: Street Fighter is better than Mortal Kombat because there are fewer dumb character gimmicks.
When Street Fighter gets a new character, it’s usually because some awesome Capcom character is added to a new game. This is how the Final Fight characters were slowly introduced into the Street Fighter games.
However, modern Mortal Kombat brings in the cringiest new characters as DLC. When you have Scorpion squaring off against The Joker or The Terminator, it’s time to admit your game has jumped the shark.
7. Easier Blocking
Blocking is a major part of any fighting game. And blocking in Street Fighter II is so easy (you merely hold back) that most new players discover it by accident.
Mortal Kombat turned the block into a separate button. And while this made certain fatalities easier to pull off (looking at you, Scorpion), it also makes it harder and more annoying to block during combat. And this only became more frustrating as the gameplay sped up over time.
8. Superior Stories
Street Fighter II introduced great individual stories for the different characters. This gave us a great glimpse into their motivations, and characters often had very unique endings.
Mortal Kombat initially made it harder to access character backgrounds, and the endings were far blander. It was clear that the meat of the “story” was just that people had to fight in a big tournament.
Things got better with the Mortal Kombat reboot (also known as Mortal Kombat 9). But it shouldn’t take that many games for your franchise to get a decent story!
9. Slick Combos
Here’s a little-known fact: combos in Street Fighter II were literally created by accident. But based on player response, Capcom leaned into combos as one of the primary features of their franchise.
In Mortal Kombat, we didn’t get real combos until Mortal Kombat 3, and when we did get them they were paired with a very annoying run button. Later games have improved on the MK combo system, but they’ve never achieved the intuitive fluidity of the SF games.
10. Consistent Games
Some fans were a little confused when the Mortal Kombat reboot was unofficially dubbed “Mortal Kombat 9.” Where were all the other games in the franchise?
Well, those largely-forgotten games were pieces of crap like Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero and Mortal Kombat: Special Forces. These games really diluted the franchise and made fans learn the hard way that MK games were wildly inconsistent in their quality.
With Street Fighter, some fans complain (rightfully so) that there isn’t that much of a difference between something like Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter Alpha 2. But at least Street Fighter is giving us games with consistent quality.
11. Better Spinoff Games
Both franchises have plenty of spinoff games. But most of Street Fighter’s spinoffs are great and most of Mortal Kombat’s spinoffs are terrible.
Think about it: SF spin-offs gave us things like Marvel vs. Capcom 2. We got cool crossovers between Capcom characters and Marvel characters in one of the best fighting games ever made.
Compared to that, MK gave us the third-person crap fast Mortal Kombat: Special Forces and the sidescrolling snoozefest Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. Why the hell did a fighting franchise want to ruin other genres? Who knows!
12. Much Better Movies
Recently, Mortal Kombat got a much-touted new movie. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Street Fighter franchise has a better film archive than Mortal Kombat.
Overall, Mortal Kombat has had three live-action movies, with only the 1995 original being any good. And they have had two animated movies, with only Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge being any good.
Street Fighter had a notoriously bad live-action movie starring Jean Claude Van Damme. But aside from that, there have been some decent live-action movies such as Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist. And almost all of the SF animated movies have become instant anime classics.
13. Better TV Shows
Believe it or not, both franchises have had their own TV shows. And this is another area where Street Fighter is clearly superior to Mortal Kombat.
Both of the franchises have exactly one awful cartoon series. For Street Fighter, it was the old show on the USA network. For Mortal Kombat, it was Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, another terrible USA cartoon.
So far, it’s a draw. But Mortal Kombat went on to give us Mortal Kombat: Conquest, a show that looks made entirely of B-roll footage from the worst Power Rangers episodes. And Street Fighter gave us a 29-episode anime that turned Street Fighter 2 into an epic animated saga.