[From now until mid-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. Previously: Top 10 Shoot 'em Ups, Top 10 Puzzle Games, Top 10 Browser Platformers, Top 20 Freeware Platformers, Top 10 Browser Arcade Games]

The sixth of our 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 twenty of the best freeware arcade games released in 2009.

A bear behind a wheel, a tiki totem on speed, and a planet-devouring worm. These are just some of the stranger protagonists that you'll find in our selection of the best downloadable arcade games from last year.

(You can also access the full 2009 Top Freeware Arcade Games 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 downloadable arcade games of the year:

20. Ping Pong (cactus) [Windows, freeware]

Ping Pong is cactus' take on the popular table tennis game, although some rules were changed for a more arcade feel rather than an accurate simulation of the sporting pastime. A training module is included to assist new players with learning the controls, while the hotseat multiplayer feature allows two people to take on each other in a friendly match.

19. Jetpack Basketball (Mark Essen) [Windows, freeware]

Jetpack Basketball is a hotseat game for one or two players, where the challenge is to place the ball into the basket eleven times to win the match. There is also a button that you can press to make more balls appear in the court. Terrific fun for a Sunday afternoon when you have some relatives over.

18. okkuplektor (0rel) [Windows, freeware]

okkuplektor is a stylish 3D shooter where the objective is to search for a yellow box hidden somewhere in each stage, usually placed inside castles which are to be destroyed before revealing their prizes.

17. Classic Night (Akarolls) [Windows, freeware]

Classic Night is a strategy game with arcade elements, where players are asked to help a talking moon grow brighter by constructing utilities or buildings which give off light. Light from flowers and structures can then be collected as the main resource for upgrades or new constructions.

16. Kung Fu 2 (Gary Gasko) [Windows, freeware]

Kung Fu 2 is a remake of Kung-Fu Master, where you assume the role of a martial arts master on a quest to save his girlfriend from the evil clutches of Mr. X. The game comes with nine playable stages, unlockable secret characters, and an online high score submission feature.

15. NeonPlat (Jayenkai) [Windows, freeware]

NeonPlat is an arcade platformer where points are scored by using balls to bowl enemies off the screen. Platdude can double or triple jump in the air (with the right power-ups), climb ladders, paint over floors for points and slip below platforms, but he can never carry more than one ball at a time.

An online high score table is accessible from the main menu inside the game.

14. Uberleben (Beau Blyth) [Windows, freeware]

Uberleben is a hotseat party game with support of up seven players on keyboard, mouse and joypad. In it, participating skydivers must attempt to reach the ground safely by navigating around obstacles while collecting rings to increase their mobility and attack strength.

13. GunFu Deadlands (Christiaan Janssen) [Windows, freeware]

GunFu Deadlands is a 2D arcade shooter in which you play a cowboy out to prove that he is the quickest sharpshooter in the West. Our hero has the uncanny ability to react faster than everyone else, although he can only use bullet time in short bursts. The outlaws are no slouches as well, and if you're not behind cover the moment everything returns to normal, you will be shot down like a deck of stacked playing cards blown away by the wind.

The game also features a hard mode, where players are only allowed the use of one life to beat all ten stages included in the game.

12. QQUAK (Jan Willem Nijman) [Windows, freeware]

QQUAK is a low-resolution remake of id's Quake 2 by Jan Willem Nijman, featuring three playable maps to choose from, four different weapons to use, and a limitless number of enemies for you to shoot at. Health and ammunition can be replenished by collecting power-up items, and your score is submitted automatically after the end of each game.

11. Magic Planet Snack (Elephant Kiss) [Windows, freeware]

In Magic Planet Snack you are a wizard who turned himself into a worm by accident, and has to travel through the cosmos to devour wizards on other worlds for points. Gathering orbs will power up your hyper gauge, and once that is full all edible objects on screen are transformed into confectionery for your worm to chew on. This effect only lasts for a couple of seconds, but it should be enough time to score some bonuses that will edge you closer to a bonus life.

10. De Toren (Kevin Oke) [Windows, freeware]

De Toren is a delightful puzzle platformer from the developer of Lightmare and Consumer Culture, where the player's objective is to reach the top of a tower safely with at least the minimum amount of points required to clear a level. Floor sections which you have stepped on will light up, but backtracking will deduct a small percentage from the combo indicator that you are building up on. Keeping the combo count high is important, because time is of the essense and there are only so many floor sections to walk on in every stage.

9. Atomic Blast (qrleon) [Windows, freeware]

Atomic Blast is an action platformer that features twelve short levels, created by qrleon using an unregistered version of Game Maker. Similar to Chris Roper's Destructivator, you play a hero who can jump, climb, and shoot his way past just about every obstacle thrown at him. Our protagonist isn't exactly invincible though, as getting hit by a single bullet from any enemy's gun will kill him instantly.

8. Knight of the Living Dead (Pistachio Productions) [Windows, freeware]

Knight of the Living Dead tells the tale of brave Sir Galahad, who has been called upon to defend Camelot from the vilest of evil - zombie knights. Armed with only his trusty sword and a handful of regenerating spells, Galahad must survive ten waves of zombies and defeat the final boss in order to restore peace to the land.

7. Merry Gear Solid 2 (Arthur Lee) [Windows, freeware]

Merry Gear Solid 2: Ghost of Christmas Past is a fan-made tribute to a popular series of stealth espionage games, created by a developer who has a clear understanding and respect for canon material. Many of the tools used on the field have been renamed and redesigned with the Christmas theme in mind, but the way these equipment are handled will feel very similar to their original counterparts.

Arthur has written the storyline to be as convoluted as possible, and cutscenes do go on quite a bit, although the only real issue with the game is that about a quarter of it involves backtracking through rooms you've visited earlier in the mission.

6. Igneous (Going Down in Flames) [Windows, freeware]

Created by a team from DigiPen and entered into both the main IGF competition and the student contest, Igneous is the story of one tiki totem's frantic rush through an erupting volcano and it's quite literally a face-melter. Each of the three levels consists of rolling at high speeds away from the deadly lava flow, which is constantly throwing balls of molten death and destruction in your direction, destroying platforms and pathways. Think fast or you'll end up in the drink.

It's a pretty short experience with around 15 minutes of play, but there is also Impossible mode which does what it says on the tin. Honestly, you won't have felt a rush like this is a good long while and that final level is incredibly epic.

5. The Black Heart (Andrés Borghi) [Windows, freeware]

The Black Heart is a versus fighting game which took Argentine developer Andrés Borghi seven years to create using Elecbyte's M.U.G.E.N. engine. There are six playable characters to choose from, each with their own set of special moves that can be executed using simple key press combinations. In addition to the basic attacks, players can also charge up their energy gauge and perform a powerful fatal move to finish a duel in style.

The game also features a couple of gameplay modes separate from the main story campaign, with support for hotseat multiplayer also included.

4. Vanguard Princess (Sugeno Tomoaki) [Windows, freeware]

Vanguard Princess is a freeware versus fighting game created with Enterbrain's 2D Fighter Maker engine, featuring the sort of quality normally reserved for full-price commercial releases. There are ten playable characters to choose from, an assortment of special moves distinct to each combatant, excellent sprite work, creative costume designs, and even a multiplayer mode that is unfortunately limited to just two people playing on the same computer with no online capabilities.

3. Enviro-Bear 2000: Operation Hibernation (Justin Smith) [Windows, freeware]

Suffering from a case of too many punctuations, Enviro-Bear 2000: Operation: Hibernation is a physics-based driving simulator where the objective is to assist a bear eat just enough food before going into a long hibernation sleep. Being drowsy and all, the bear's mobility is limited to just one paw, hence the wheel, gear shift and pedals can only be operated one at a time. Once you've eaten enough, then it's off to one of the caves to sleep for an entire year.

2. RunMan: Race Around the World (Tom Sennett and Matt Thorson) [Windows, freeware]

Simply put, RunMan is utterly fantastic. The whole experience comprises of pelting it through zone after zone of levels which look like they were draw in MS Paint with the biggest size brush, bouncing off walls, smashing through bricks and baddies and then picking up a medal at the end depending on how fast you were and how much stuff you crashed into. All the while a glorious mixture of folk, blues and jazz accompanies the action, somehow perfectly complimenting the hilarity.

And that's just the basics down. Each zone map is set out like a SNES-era Mario title, while the gameplay itself manages to feel like some mad cross between said plumber and that blue hedgehog of yore. Then each level itself has 3 different medals to achieve - a bronze, silver and gold - the latter of which requires complete control and concentration to master. Oh, and the game saves ghost runs of your performances which you can then race against. And there are boss levels too.

1. Star Guard (Sparky) [Windows/Mac, freeware]

Star Guard is a 2D platformer in which you play as a spaceman on a mission to defeat an evil wizard, armed with only a gun that fires in the direction that you are facing. A quick trigger finger helps, because enemies have a tendency to spring out of nowhere and take you by surprise. Slow to react, and you'd end up back at the last checkpoint location or the beginning of the level you are on.

The game isn't particularly difficult to beat, considering that players have infinite lives to waste on getting shot at or springing traps. There are nine levels to play in total, and instructions on how to unlock an extra mode are given after completing the entire quest.

[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.]