[From now until early January, IndieGames.com: The Weblog will be counting down the best independent and freeware games of 2009, with descriptions, screenshots, and links of the best games in each major category.]

Kicking off the first of the in-depth 2009 Best Of Features here on the IndieGames.com blog (after the overall Top 10 we did for Gamasutra and the 10 Indie Games for '10 article), we're proud to present ten of the best freeware shoot 'em ups released in 2009.

Let's take a look at a couple of naughty and nice shoot 'em ups, featuring titles with names of insects, cephalopods, and even.. phalluses, in this quirky selection of the best shooters we've played this year.

(You can also access the full 2009 Top Freeware Shoot 'Em Ups chart -- with extra screenshots and information -- as part of the IndieGames.com Features section, which includes indie game charts from 2006 to 2008.)

Here are the top freeware shoot 'em ups of the year:

10. Atomic Super Boss (Jan Willem Nijman and Miroslav Malešević) [Flash, freeware]

Originally developed with the Game Maker engine, JW's Atomic Super Boss is a score-based vertical shooter that features only one enemy to shoot at for points. The fragile part of your ship is marked by a small white-coloured square, and you earn more points by sticking close to the boss while shooting at it. The ship also moves faster when no shots are fired.

There are three difficulty levels to choose from, and you can even submit your best scores online at the end of each game as well.

9. Death vs. Monstars (GameReclaim) [Flash, freeware]

You know how sometimes you just want to put down the clever puzzle game and grab a dose of mindless shooting fun? Death vs. Monstars could fill that void. It's a Geometry Wars style blaster containing such silly gimmicks as 'Berserk Mode' and 'Bullet Time' and it's great fun.

Enemies spawn all over the screen and it's your job to destroy them and grab the plunder. Money can then be used to upgrade your little floating skull, making the killing easier. Of course, with each level the difficulty gets ramped up, so making use of the provided Berserk Mode (crazy firing all over the screen to wipe out all enemies present) and Bullet Time (take a wild guess) is essential.

It's even got a Boss battle to deal with at the end which is pretty challenging. So if you're looking for a nice, brain-dead way to pass the time, help Death beat those crazy Monstars over at Game Reclaim.

8. Hell is Other People (George Buckenham) [Unity, freeware]

It has an awesome name. It is an awesome concept. Hell is Other People is an 'asynchronously multiplayer' according to creator George Buckenham. The path that each player takes is recorded and future players are then pitted against their recordings.

This means that no two games are the same. It also means you are technically playing against humans - albeit humans who aren't actually aiming at you. It's a beautiful idea which starts off pretty easy and soon develops into a full-on war. Try taking on 15 ghosts at the same time. Chaos.

7. Squid Yes, Not So Octopus 2: Squid Harder (Oddbob) [Windows, freeware]

Squid Yes, Not So Octopus 2: Squid Harder is an arena shooter created by Robert D. Fearon, featuring glowy graphics and eye candy that (at maximum setting) is guaranteed to push the limits of any computer setup you may have. A host of configuration options are included, allowing players to change screen size, toggle autofire, activate motion blur, or even enable the practice mode where novices could take the game for a spin without worrying about dodging bullets or colliding with enemies.

Joysticks and gamepads are automatically supported, although you could use the keyboard to play as well.

6. GearToyGear (Kenta Cho) [Windows, freeware]

GearToyGear is a 3D tunnel shooter which plays like Kenta Cho's Torus Trooper, although in this mission you are only able to control the speed and flight direction of the ship that you pilot. Shots are fired automatically, and if your initial ship stock isn't enough you can also earn extra lives by scoring more points in the game.

For Windows users, the installation of XNA Framework 3.1 is required to get GearToyGear working. Playing the game with an Xbox 360 controller is recommended.

5. Space Phallus (Charlie's Games) [Windows/Mac/Linux, freeware]

Space Phallus is a retro horizontal shooter with a naughty theme, created by the developer of Bullet Candy and Irukandji. Here you pilot the disembodied head of a dog, fighting against hordes of enemies in the shape of unmentionable body parts with only an assortment of three weapons at your disposal. Thankfully these weapons can blow away anything that stands in your path, just as long as you use them wisely and sparingly.

There are three stages to play in total. The game features an online high score table, a special guest appearance by General Custer himself, and is available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux operating systems.

4. White Butterfly (Sparky) [Windows, freeware]

White Butterfly is a vertical shooter created by Linley Henzell, developer of the excellent Dungeon Crawl and Garden of Coloured Lights. Players begin the game by choosing one of the four available ships to pilot, with a fifth one only unlocked after you've completed the final stage.

There are three long stages to play in total.

3. Bullet Time (Terry Cavanagh) [Flash, freeware]

Created in 48 hours for Mini Ludum Dare #9, Bullet Time is your standard retro shmup with the added bonus of a 'bullet time' effect thrown in. The goal of the game is to survive as long as you can. If things get too hectic, you can activate Bullet Time, which slows down enemy bullets long enough for you to navigate to safety.

It's a short but sweet experience. Everything from the action-packed playing area to the accompanying dance (by DestroySound and Kontinuum) beat make it all feel very hectic, and the rank-through-survival system works well.

2. Genetos (Tatsuya Koyama) [Windows, freeware]

Genetos is a vertical shooter that pays tribute to many classic and modern day shoot 'em ups, where the enemies and weapons evolve as you progress from one stage to another. The game offers plenty of configuration settings that cater to players of all skill levels, although some of the advanced features like invincibility and the boss rush mode are only available after you've beaten the entire game at least once.

The type of weapons that you unlock is determined by your style of play as well, and a history of your completed achievements are accessible via the history option at the main menu.

1. Captain Forever (Farbs) [Flash, freeware]

In Captain Forever, you're the captain of a ship named Nemesis, stranded in space without a single clue about your current whereabouts. Fortunately an info buoy is around to help, providing you with some information about the sector you are in and supplying repair modules to rebuild your ship.

By destroying enemy ships with your default laser weapon, you can cause them to drop ship parts that can be attached to your own ship. Additional ship plating, extra weapons and increased thruster power are just some of the benefits to be gained from salvaging intact modules.

Captain Forever is a series of episodes to be launched by Farbs in the coming months, with the first game available to play for free.

[Got feedback? Reasons to disagree? Post a response and we'll do a special 'best of reader comments' round-up at the end of our chart countdowns.]