It’s probably not escaped your notice that there are a lot of collectible card games on mobile, with more coming more or less monthly. And yet Plants vs. Zombies Heroes doesn’t care.

There are probably two reasons for the way it unabashedly leaps into the fray. One is that it’s based on an IP that people know and love after EA and PopCap have spent years building it up. The other is that unlike many other CCGs that have tried following the leader (Hearthstone, until there’s evidence to the contrary), Plants vs. Zombies Heroes brings a number of its own ideas to the table while retaining the distinctive aesthetic of the PvZ franchise.

As he often is, Dr. Zomboss is at the heart of this new game, with the framing story explaining that he developed an experimental ray that would give his zombies super-powers. The problem is that it exploded with plants nearby, granting some of them powers and abilities far beyond … well, beyond what this series’ plants already had over normal plants.

That gives us the titular hero characters, a total of 10 on each side. They become your avatars in battle, using four special powers (three shared with other heroes and one unique) and two different classes of cards from which decks of 40 cards each are taken into every duel.

Plants vs. Zombies Heroes

The cards consist of nearly every plant and zombie you’ve ever seen in a Plants vs. Zombies title to date, along with many more making their debuts here. The designers deserve a lot of credit for being able to dream up so many more memorable additions, and a lot of effort clearly went into details like their animations, sound effects and flavor text.

None of that would matter much if the game wasn’t fun to play, but it succeeds on that front as well. The board on which you battle has five lanes, which feels instantly familiar if you’re already a PvZ fan. Plants and zombies played in the same lanes attack each other at the end of a turn, while unopposed characters do direct damage to the opposing hero. The goal is to reduce the opposing hero to zero health just as in many other CCGs.

Plants vs. Zombies Heroes

Many card combinations have a certain comfort level to anyone familiar with the genre, and the wide variety of cards available at launch provides for numerous different deck-building ideas. But Heroes also solves the question of who goes first in an interesting way: The zombie player always goes first, but then gets an extra phase for “tricks” once the plant player has acted. A “super block” mechanic adds just the right touch of randomness to every duel and gives players one more thing to consider when they make their moves.

New cards can be acquired from packs purchased with both standard and premium currencies, and the game’s lengthy soft launch period allowed PopCap to drill down nicely in terms of the single-player levels and missions so it always feels like you are progressing toward earning more gems for those rarer cards. But like any CCG, Plants vs. Zombies Heroes will fly or flop based on its multiplayer, and it’s in this area where it’s harder to give it a finished grade right off the bat.

Plants vs. Zombies Heroes

While the game does give you access to both plant and zombie heroes pretty early on, every newcomer starts out playing on the plant side. As a result, it’s been extremely difficult during the first week of release to find a ranked PvP match for my plant decks, simply because everyone seems to be playing plants. If you were ranked separately for both factions, that wouldn’t be a problem, but you fight your way up the PvP ladder with one ranking, so unless PopCap changes it so that newbies can choose to between plants and zombies right away, it appears I’ll have to wait for the rest of the game’s community to catch up.

That observation isn’t enough to dampen my feelings about the game overall. Maybe I’m just a sucker for card games from familiar IPs, but I don’t think that’s it. Plants vs. Zombies Heroes has to walk a fine line balancing between the expectations of its franchise and its genre while also offering enough freshness to stand apart from them, and the fact that it does it with so much style deserves applause. If there’s room in the market for more than one big name CCG, this has a definite shot to be in that mix.