I've never really been "into" Escape games, but I have dabbled. It's not that I dislike them, it's just that I generally prefer my adventure/puzzle games to involve more character interaction and humor (i.e. of the LucasArts variety). The desolate environments for these kinds of games are somewhat of a downer for me, so I have to really be in a particular mood to want to play one.
Ellie - Help me out... please has put a Japanese horror spin on the fairly universal formula, adding an unsettling atmosphere to the isolation and loneliness that keeps the tension high throughout. It's a bit graphic, a little disturbing and bound to get the heart beating faster. This is not a game I'd suggest playing before bedtime, no sir.
But creepy atmosphere and personal doubts about the innocence of the trapped girl aside, what makes Ellie stand out is its interesting use of in-app purchases. An "extra room" can be purchased for players who want to keep enjoying the disturbing story and world, naturally. However, unlike many "free" games it's not ad supported nor does it lock users out until they pay for the full version. Instead, it allows users to unlock hints with real money at $1 apiece. It's an interesting idea that might not work out all that well once people start posting said hints online, but it's nice to see companies trying out new ideas when it comes to freemium pay structures.
Some may scoff at the idea of paying for answers to a couple of puzzles, but in all honesty some of these puzzles are very, very hard. That one with the drawers, especially. Sure it's possible to jump online and try to look up the answers, but I expect a good many players might be too involved in their game to interrupt it like that. I think it might be easier for some to just bite the bullet and spend the buck so they can move on. And I think the folks at Ateam Inc are thinking that, too.
Only time will tell us if their idea works, but if it does it may well open up new possibilities for freemium games. I'm quite curious to see how this all works out.