Wow. What a year. For online casual games, that is. I can't remember a better year for fans of free online games. Developers like John Cooney, Ivan Miller, Toge Productions, Nerdook... (the list is endless) have been churning out consistently high quality games all year. So much so that it has been almost impossible to keep up with all the great new games coming out (We hope our game lists and new game round-ups have been helping in this respect).
We can only hope that 2011 will match the quality and productivity of 2010. But before we file 2010 away in the dusty folder marked 'past', let's take one last look at some of the great games it produced. Here, we pick our ten favourite online casual games of the year. As usual, we have focused on games that you can play online for free.
Once you have finished reading about and playing these ten brilliant games, why don't you compile your own list of your favourite games of the year, and post them in the comments section below.
To be crowned Game of the Year, a game must not only be perfect in every respect. It also has to offer something unique; a startling new graphics engine, perhaps, or maybe an interesting fusion of different genres, or even a radical reinvention of an existing genre (alas, the days when games forged completely new genres seem to be over, though we live in hope).
Solipskier - Casual Girl Gamer's Game of the Year 2010 - certainly delivers on uniqueness. At least, I can't think of any other skiing game where you create the course in real-time while you're playing. Nor have I come across any other game that has improved on the fast-and-furious action of running classic Canabalt (which clearly provided inspiration for Solipskier's developers).
Add in slick graphics, challenging and interesting game-play and a great sound track, and you have one of the most inventive and fun Flash games ever made, for which the game's developers Mikengreg Games deserve a lot of credit. Play our Game of the Year here.
2 Cursed Treasure
There are now so many tower defence games available on the web (as testified by our list of The 30 best tower defence games) that you might think that there is little new that can be brought to the genre. You'd be wrong, as this brilliant game from Russian developer Iriy Soft proves. Cursed Treasure is - in our opinion - the best free tower defence game that has been made. Protect your gems from the enemy hordes by building and upgrading three types of towers. Great graphics and some of the most addictive game-play on the web should keep you happily occupied for hours. Play Cursed Treasure here.
Steambirds is a turn-based aerial dog-fighting game from the team (Andy Moore, Daniel Cook, and DannyB) that worked on such legendary Flash games as Fantastic Contraption and Canabalt. Take control of a squadron of fighter planes and defeat your enemies across a series of increasingly difficult levels, encountering tricky boss fights along the way.
The game is slickly produced and features one of the easiest to use control systems we have came across in a strategy game. Even non-strategy fans should enjoy it. Steambirds can be played here. An equally brilliant sequel to the game can be played here.
4 Corporation Inc
If you've always fancied yourself as a bit of a captain of industry type but could never persuade those pesky venture capitalists to part with their wodges of cash to get you going on that million dollar idea, then you are in luck. Equally, if you're yearning to unleash you inner megalomaniacal empire builder, then this is a game for you. Play Corporation Inc here.
ImmorTall by Evan Miller is a beautiful, emotionally moving game that makes you ponder on the nature of life. You play an alien who has recently crash landed near a warzone. You are befriended by a couple of children and their parents. It soon becomes clear that the family's life is under threat from soldiers.
Your task is to lead the family to safety, using your tough alien body to protect them from bullets and bombs. The way the game conveys the growing bond between the alien and family - without using any dialogue whatsoever - is nothing short of genius. I am not an emotional type but this game brought me within a whisker of bawling my eyes out. Immortall can be played here. You can read our review of the game here.
6 Epic Battle Fantasy 3
The developers of the Epic Battle Fantasy games really went to town with the third iteration of this popular RPG series. Certainly, Epic Battle Fantasy 3 lives up to the 'epic' in its name, boasting more than 70 varieties of monsters, no less than 80 types of equipment, and that's before we even get to the 80-plus skills and spells at your disposal.
But it is not just the size of the game that impresses. Epic Battle Fantasy 3 also features appealing graphics, interesting turn-based game-play and a fun story-line. You take charge of three young heroes out to defeat an evil demon that they foolishly woke up. During your quest, you will explore a Zelda-style world, buying and selling gear, gleaning useful information from friendly NPCs and - of course - battling a huge number of nasty critters. You can play Epic Battle Fantasy 3 here.
7 Home Sheep Home
Possibly the cutest physics game ever made, Home Sheep Home puts you in charge of three sheep: Shirley, Shaun and Timmy. You have to guide them home through a series of different levels. Each sheep has different abilities and you have to get them to work together to ensure that they all safely reach their destination. The game's graphics and animations are absolutely sublime, which should not come as a surprise as the game was developed by Aardman, the film company behind such animated classics as Wallace and Gromit. Play Home Sheep Home here. Read our review of it here.
With Megadrill, developer Small is Beautiful has taken the launching genre of game (where you propel various items - usually cute animals - as far into the air as possible) and turned it on its head. Instead of going up, the game challenges you to dig deep into the ground using a drill.
The result is one of the most addictive games we have ever played. Each dig earns you cash from gold and gems you discover. The money can then be spent on upgrading your drill, allowing you to dig even deeper... to where the more expensive gems reside. The aim is to earn as much cash as possible in 25 weeks. Megadrill can be played here.
9 Monster Slayers
Kudos to Nerdook, the developer of Monster Slayers, for making an RPG strategy game that is an absolute doddle to play. There are no impenetrable menu trees of options to search through, there are no keyboard shortcuts to learn. The game is so simple you don't even need to read the instructions. Simply tell your squad of soldiers to do one of fours things: fall back, defend, attack or fast forward. That's it. We love games that make gaming accessible to everyone, and Monster Slayers does a great job of that. You can play the game here.
10 Infectionator: World dominator
Most people hide away in their bedrooms when they are suffering from an infectious illness. They don't want to pass their illness on to their friends and family. Not the god-like protagonist of Infectionator: World Dominator - a fun strategy game by Toge Productions.
He loves nothing more than sharing his infectious illness with as many people as possible, and he has at his disposal a particularly insidious infection, one that turns people into zombies. Your task on each level of the game is to infect or kill all the people within 60 seconds. But it is not just the infection that has gone viral. So has the game itself, proving to be one of the biggest hits of 2010. Play Infectionator: World dominator here.
Don't forget to share your top ten games of the year with us in the comments section below.