For Microsoft ( MSFT) it's time to pop the champagne.

The company leaped to the top of both hardware and software video-game charts for September, besting both its rivals, Sony ( SNE) and Nintendo, thanks to Halo 3, the biggest game released for the Xbox 360 console this year.

The game, released on Sept. 25, sold a whopping 3.3 million copies in its first 12 days, according to data from research firm NPD.

Halo 3 grabbed the number one spot on NPD's chart of the month's best-selling video games, helping Microsoft outsell its rival Sony's PlayStation 3 console by a margin of five to one, said Microsoft.

Fans of the Halo series helped Microsoft sell 527,800 Xbox 360s in September, compared to 276,700 in August. The sales surge put Microsoft ahead of even Nintendo's Wii, which has been seen as unstoppable.

Nintendo sold 501,000 Wiis in September, up from 403,600 last month, said NPD, while Sony sold 119,400 PS3s, down from 130,600 systems last month.

Sony recently cut the price of its current 80-gigabyte model of the PS3 by $100 and said the device will now retail for $499. The company also plans to introduce a new 40-GB model, starting Nov. 2, for $399.

Sony's older PlayStation 2 continued to hold its own. The company sold 215,000 PS2s, up from 202,000 during August.

Overall industry sales, including hardware, software and accessories, touched $1.36 billion in September, up from $778.7 million a year earlier.

"Although we've been confident for many months now that the industry was poised to realize its best year ever in terms of revenue, the results in recent months make me even more bullish," Anita Frazier, an analyst with NPD, said in a statement.

"I believe the U.S. video games industry will realize somewhere in the range of $17 billion to $18 billion for the year," she said.

Console sales in the month were up 188% to $418.6 million from $145.5 million in September 2006.

Among independent games publishers, Electronic Arts ( ERTS) fared the best. The company's sports blockbuster, Madden NFL 08 for the PlayStation 2, ranked fourth on the charts with 205,000 copies sold during the month.

EA also grabbed the fifth and sixth positions, selling 175,000 copies of its new sports game Skate for the Xbox 360, and 173,600 copies of Madden for the Xbox360. Madden was released on Aug. 14 and had bagged the top two spots on NPD's list of best-selling video games in August.

Take-Two Interactive's ( TTWO) sleeper hit BioShock continued to chart well, in eighth place with 150,000 copies sold in September.

Nintendo's games, Wii Play, Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass , and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption ranked second, third and seventh on the charts, respectively.

Sony's exclusive release for the PS3, Heavenly Sword, came in 10th.

Portable game systems also found favor among gamers. The industry sold $126.5 million worth of portable game systems, up 28% from $98.4 million the same month of the previous year.

Software sales for consoles reached $550.5 million in September, up from $335.8 million in the same period one year ago.

Sony sold 284,500 handheld PlayStation Portables, while rival Nintendo's version, the DS, sold 495,800 systems, up from 383,300 a month ago.

Sales of video game accessories were up nearly 76% to $157 million.