[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, Top Freeware Arcade Games 2009]
The last 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 experimental games released in 2009.
Call it art. Call it experimental. Call it meta, even. Love them or hate them, art games are here to stay. A word of warning though: some of these developers do take the idea of permanency to the extreme. The cost of defeat in any of these games might end up to be more than what you’re willing to lose.
(You can also access the full 2009 Top Freeware Experimental 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 experimental games of the year:
20. Lose/Lose (Zach Gage) [Mac, freeware]
Billed as ‘a video game with real life consequences’, Lose/Lose is a simple vertical-scrolling shoot’em up with a twist — each alien appearing on your screen represents a random file on your computer. Thus, each time you kill an alien, the game will delete that sprite’s associated file. If the aliens manage to destroy your ship, the Lose/Lose application is deleted. Wacky and dangerous!
19. Dungeon (cactus and Arthur Lee) [Windows, freeware]
Dungeon is a short 2D platformer created for the 14th Mini Ludum Dare competition, where you are thrown into a dungeon with minimal instructions on how to play the game displayed at the top of the screen. Each area presents a different challenge for players to overcome, and a small piece of the story is revealed the further you venture into the castle. Some obstacles are certainly designed to be harder to beat than the others, so you might need a small amount of perseverance and patience before finally making it through.
18. DefeatMe (Kenta Cho) [Flash, freeware]
DefeatMe is a simple shooter which involves attempting to kill the enemy with as few shots as possible. On each subsequent level, you’re put up against clones of yourself from each of the previous rounds.
Put simply, the less shots you fire off, the less shots will be fired back at you next round. And vice versa, of course – take your time killing the single ship in the first round, and you may find it rather difficult to complete the next.
There’s a time limit too, making the gameplay even more intense. The question is, what is the best way to play? Fire off one by one and hope your accuracy skills are up to the challenge, or dart around dodging all the incoming projectiles?
17. FallOver (Arvi Teikari) [Windows, freeware]
FallOver is Hempuli’s physics-based platformer that feels broken at first, but then becomes rather fun after spending a couple of minutes coming to gripes with an unbalanced protagonist and the floaty control scheme. You play as a gentleman who has to collect coins and reach the white flag safely, as he is prone to fall over with the slightest touch of any bump on the landscape. Players can stand up to three times if they happen to trip, and a quick restart button is included in case you use up all of your retries.
16. Din (Ted Diefenbach, Mansa Gory and Brian Lee) [Windows, freeware]
Din is a short experimental work which uses audio in a very novel manner, where each game lasts for only a couple of minutes and players are scored based on their listening ability. The story is centered around a laid-back character named Bill who is having a quiet walk in the park, but is soon followed by his friends and family who harasses him with their troubles, concerns and opinions. Being the friendly guy that he is, Bill must be attentive to their requests or risk upsetting and losing a couple of close buddies.
15. Where (Mike Inel) [Windows, freeware]
Where is a small but atmospheric maze game created by Mike Inel in under three days. There is an actual way to reach your intended destination, although you will have to figure out the solution to a puzzle or two in order to get there.
14. This is the Only Level (John Cooney) [Flash, freeware]
This is the Only Level is a short puzzle platformer that can be completed in roughly ten minutes or so. The objective here is to guide a blue elephant towards the exit pipe safely, but in order to achieve that you would first have to unlock the door which blocks your path to freedom.
Players are allowed to retry a level as many times as they want. If you happen to get stuck, just press the panic button to reset everything back to their original positions for another go.
13. Queens (noonat) [Flash, freeware]
Queens is a small 2D platformer created by noonat in under three days for a mini Ludum Dare contest, made possible with the help of Adam Atomic’s flixel framework and tutorial resources.
The game isn’t particularly long or difficult, and you won’t be spending more than fifteen minutes or so to complete the entire adventure.
12. The Linear RPG (Sophie Houlden) [Flash, freeware]
The Linear RPG is Sophie Houlden’s entry into RPGDX’s ‘LoFi’ Indie RPG Jam. Play is set along a single line and battles happen automatically, with health and experience being altered randomly.
Along the linear mission there are circles which represent inns, places to restore your health. To make it all the way to the end, players need to work their way forward and back along the line, visiting previous inns in order to build their experience up before tackling harder and longer lines.
It’s not a breakthrough in RPG gameplay, but it’s an interesting concept and the story which is simultaneously told in the background adds to the experience.
11. Succor (Sean Barrett) [Windows, freeware]
Succor is an experimental project created by Sean Barrett, the developer of Lost in the Static, with the original protype designed in under three days but then expanded to include a total of twenty-seven levels in the public release version.
The game is rather simplistic in nature, where only the most basic of polygons or lines are used to represent walls, objects, and ships. You can hold the left or right arrow key to turn the ship, press up to move forward, or use the space key to shoot. Players should be able to breeze through the first few stages with ease, but the difficulty will pick up immediately once you’re presented with a new gameplay element that changes the way you approach and overcome challenges radically.
10. Post I.T. Shooter (Petri Purho) [Windows, freeware]
Post I.T. Shooter has a stop-motion thing going on involving post-it notes and it works so well. Players move their ship using the arrow keys and press space to fire at the randomly-generated alien invaders. There’s not much to it gameplay-wise, but who cares when it’s that incredibly amazing to look at!
9. Chaser (Connor Carpenter) [Windows, freeware]
The aim of Chaser is to catch a small stick man who is running away from you through a black, grassy world of randomly placed trees, rocks and bushes.
Starting off slowly, you soon build up speed by collecting coins which your prey hurls around. The brilliant thing which really makes this game so much fun to play is the music which builds itself up and the feeling of sheer speed once your score gets to around 1000 points. Colliding with a rock or tree will send your little guy spinning and you’ll have to start again. Chaser is a must-play.
8. Tanaka’s Friendly Adventure (Bento Smile) [Flash, freeware]
Tanaka’s Friendly Adventure is a charming little exploration game that involves gathering a group of friends to attend the titular character’s birthday party celebration. There’s no time limit to rush you into doing anything, and the adventure can be replayed as many times as you want. You can also visit your friends in a special section accessible via the main menu.
7. We The Giants (Peter Groeneweg) [Flash, freeware]
We The Giants is a 2D platformer which took Peter Groeneweg five days to put together, though most players will probably spend less than ten minutes to reach the end of the game. It is recommended that you stick around for the credits, as anyone who completes the short adventure will receive a small reward for their efforts.
6. Today I Die (Daniel Benmergui) [Flash, freeware]
Daniel Benmergui’s Today I Die is a puzzle game created in a style that fans of his works should already be familiar with. Similar to I Wish I were the Moon, the adventure is a short one and shouldn’t take longer than a couple of minutes to play from start to end.
You’ll be interacting with objects using only the mouse, but what you do with your surroundings is something that you’ll have to figure out for yourself. The game also features multiple endings to discover.
5. Pathways (Terry Cavanagh) [Windows, freeware]
The progression of a tale in Terry Cavanagh’s Pathways is dictated by your choices, and hence the key moments and endings will be directly affected as well. As hinted by the title, players are offered the options of taking one route or another at many of the junctions to be found inside the game, with all paths previously explored conveniently marked by a fuzzy snow effect seen commonly on old television sets. A good selection of music and sound effects help accentuate the experience, although the conclusion of this adventure may surprise a few people because of how little resolution it provides to many of the questions that might arise from playing.
4. Every Day the Same Dream (Molleindustria) [Flash, freeware]
In Molleindustria’s Every Day the Same Dream, you play as a white-collar worker who goes through the same routine of driving to the office daily, but deep down inside his soul he harbours a yearning to take the path less travelled. This is where the story begins, as players try to figure out ways to break away from the monotony of adulthood life.
Made in under a week for the Experimental Gameplay’s art game theme, Every Day the Same Dream is a short game that can be completed in under fifteen minutes or less.
3. Don’t Soil Your Pants (Rete) [Flash, freeware]
Don’t Soil Your Pants is a one-room text adventure game created by Rete, featuring multiple solutions to the same problem and a set of awards to unlock for players who are into pointless achievements.
2. You Only Live Once (Raitendo) [Flash, freeware]
You Only Live Once is a literal title, so it’s worth making sure you, well, don’t die. Because there won’t be another chance if you do. It’s a very silly take on Mario that will probably last you around 2 minutes. It’s worth noting that you can jump on the heads of the baddies rather than dodge them – at first it appears that you can’t due to the spiked helmets.
Once you are dead, though, clicking Continue several times will progress the story post-kicking-the-bucket. Some people will find this funny, others will find it pointless.
1. Rara Racer (Stephen Lavelle) [Windows/Mac, freeware]
Rara Racer is a short action game which involves navigating your race kart around cones haphazardly placed around the track. The game automatically quits back to the desktop once your two minutes of play time is up.
[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.]