[From now until mid-January, IndieGames.com: The Weblog will be counting down the best independent and freeware games of 2010, with descriptions, screenshots, and links of the best games in each major category. Previously: Top 10 Experimental Games, Top 10 Shoot 'em Ups, Top 10 Role-Playing Games, Top 10 Freeware Puzzlers, Top 10 Freeware Adventure Games, Top 10 Browser Arcade Games]

The seventh of our in-depth 2010 Best Of Features here on the IndieGames.com blog (after the overall Top 10 we did for Gamasutra and the 10 Indie Games for '11 article), we're proud to present twenty of the best freeware arcade games released in 2010.

Collect crates! Steal sombreros! Punch forest animals in the face! Do your house chores! Welcome to another action-packed countdown of the best freeware arcade releases of the year - you won't find anything more frantic, frustrating, and fun than this collection of ten games we've rounded up especially for you.

Here are the top freeware downloadable arcade games of the year:

10. Cygnus (Thunderware Games) [Windows, freeware]

Cygnus is an arcade space game that's in the same vein as classic shooter Gravitar. Fly through simple rooms, chasing down a mysterious red craft and dying many, many times.

Your ship can thrust and rotate, but cannot shoot. Each room is harder to navigate than the last, and eventually it gets stupidly difficult. Be warned: you will die approximately one million times. Some will think it's too taxing, others will relish the challenge. Either way, it's worth playing.

9. Illuminator (Logan Ames) [Windows, freeware]

Illuminator is a 2D action game which tells the story of a boy who has to rescue his kidnapped sister, captured by ghouls that travel from house to house by tearing through the fabric of space. Your objective here is to find the hole in each house, then kill enough monsters to weaken the stitches on the portal that prevent you from using it to travel to the next house.

The flashlight in your possession can be used to dispel the ghouls, but only when you turn it off for a second or two to charge up the special attack. You can also pick up light fixtures and plug them into wall sockets to illuminate a room or corridor. Any ghouls that walk past them will cast a shadow, hence notifying you of their approach before it is too late to react.

8. Sombreros (Dustin Gunn) [Windows, freeware]

Sombreros is an arcade shooter made for Arthur Lee's Action 52 remake challenge, where you play as a Mexican gunslinger who has to retrieve a couple of giant hats from the bad guys. Ammo is unlimited in the game, and you can also call upon your sombrero power to pause time and mark enemies for a round of quick fire shots. Doing this depletes your sombrero gauge, but you can replenish it by collecting hats from defeated outlaws.

You won't just be shooting at henchmen throughout the entire game. There are a number of occasions where you have to duel with one or more gunslingers, and some levels have doors that you have to break down before you can proceed. The obligatory boss fights are there as well, featuring gang leaders who can take more damage than the common criminal.

7. Octodad (DePaul University Student Team) [Windows, freeware]

Octodad is a 3D adventure game that sees you controlling an octopus who is pretending to be a human. He also has kids and a wife who he needs to keep his secret from.

If this sounds pretty crazy, just wait until you see the control scheme. Lots of smashing and destruction is guaranteed, as is hilarious fun. The game is purposely difficult to control, which leads to the octopus walking in a laugh-out-loud manner, and there's even a story revolving around setting up a fake version of yourself so that your wife can enjoy your body without getting covered in ink.

6. Warlock Bentspine (Lazrool) [Windows, freeware]

Warlock Bentspine is a 2D platformer that features four stages to beat, each with a set of randomized stages for you to play in whichever direction you decide to tackle a level. At the start of a game you're presented with exits on the left and right side of the room, and if you keep going in one direction you'll face the boss of that stage in the tenth room.

Similar to the Megaman series, players will gain a new weapon to use once they've beaten a stage boss. Besides being able to shoot horizontally and vertically, Mr. Bentspine can also execute double jumps and dash for a short distance.

5. Cactus Arcade 2.0 (cactus) [Windows, freeware]

Cactus Arcade 2.0 is a compilation of Jonatan Söderström's quirky experimental games, made to accompany the first (and slightly outdated) Cactus Arcade pack. Titled Cactus Arcade 2.0, this collection includes Ad Nauseam 2, Blockon, Evac, Krebswelte, Kryzta, Ping Pong, Precision, Protoganda II, Retro 4, Silent Chain, Vicious Cycle, Stallions in America, Stench Mechanics, This is Infinity, Ultra Mission, Xoldiers, Gamma 4 and Norrland (pictured).

4. Super Crate Box (Vlambeer) [Windows/Mac, freeware]

Vlambeer's Super Crate Box is mucho good funo, because you get to fire lots of different guns and it's all very crazy. Points aren't based on how many kills you make - it's how many crates you collect. However, each crate changes the weapon you're currently wielding, and there are a huge variety of slicers and dicers to play with. Hence, you'll be changing your tactics on the fly, and all the while many, many more baddies will be storming into your general vicinity.

3. Action Fist (Beau Blyth) [Windows, freeware]

Action Fist is a 2D action platformer that features both single and two-player co-op gameplay modes, multiple weapon power-ups, frequent checkpoint locations, and the usual array of boss fights that require some thought and strategy to defeat. Switching weapons and the wall jumping ability does take a bit of getting used to, but once you've played past the first level these actions should come just as naturally as shooting and jumping in the game.

Though an easy mode exists in Action Fist, you definitely won't feel challenged at all by anything other than the Normal and Hero difficulty settings. Don't miss out on this gem folks.

2. Shoot First (Beau Blyth) [Windows, freeware]

Shoot First is an action game with roguelike elements, featuring procedurally generated levels, an automap system, two-player co-op mode, an online high score table, and even AI-controlled companions to help you out during heated gunfights with denizens of the dungeon. Your character can only carry one weapon at a time, and three other equipment that you acquire during your adventure. Weapons are upgraded automatically after a prolonged period of use, but the bonuses don't carry over when you switch to another gun.

Like any roguelike, your objective here is to descend the staircase that leads to the next level. Sometimes the staircase is blocked by a locked door, so you must first find the yellow key hidden somewhere in the dungeon before proceeding to the exit.

1. Hero Core (Daniel Remar) [Windows, freeware]

Hero Core is a Metroid-style action shooter that tells the story of Flip Hero, on a mission to destroy his nemesis Cruiser Tetron for the final time. But before taking on the machine warlord in his hideout, there's a bit of exploring to do since every weapon, item or suit upgrade found will actually assist you in completing the main and secondary mission objectives.

The first few rooms act as a tutorial that teaches new players about their suit and weapon controls, the autofire feature, progress saving, and the teleportation ability that warps your hero to a save point previously visited. Because of its non-linearity, you can choose to fight the end boss whenever you want, although players are advised to power-up both their main weapon and suit by at least a couple of levels before tackling that last challenge.

It takes about two hours to explore the entire map in the main story campaign, but there are also other bonus modes to try out, while the hard difficulty offers a completely different gameworld to explore.

[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.]